Road Trips

  • 06/01/2016 1:31 PM | Ron Presley (Administrator)

    Catch a Trifecta: Smallies, Kentuckys and Largemouth Bass

    Wherever you set on Center Hill Lake mountain peaks surround you. The Center Hill Dam backs up the water in the valleys and around the mountains to produce a scenic wonderland and a bass fishing bonanza. There are other species too, but bass fishing is reason enough to visit Center Hill. Any given cast may produce a beautiful smallmouth, a perky Kentucky or a brute of a largemouth bass.01 Bandit Fish Ron

    Center Hill Lake is a deep highland reservoir in Middle Tennessee. When flooded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers the lake had the dual purposes of electric power generation and flood control. Today it is a great bass destination.

    The lake is one of four major flood control reservoirs for the Cumberland River; the others being J. Percy Priest Dam, Dale Hollow Dam, and Wolf Creek Dam.

    David Bell is a tournament angler and sometimes fishing guide. He knows Center Hill quite well. Bell defines the geography of Center Hill as deep and rocky. “You can find some shallow water but it is not a shallow water lake,” proclaimed Bell. You have to get into the backs of the creeks and cuts to find really shallow water.”

    Actually, that is a good thing, because you find fish both in the shallower feeder creeks and the deeper main lake. The limestone outcroppings in the main lake make perfect bass habitat. “You can look at the outcroppings above the water and just imagine what it looks like below the surface,” said Bell. “There are miles of rocky shoreline, flat ledges, crooks and crannies for the fish to hide in. Most of it is limestone and everything is deep.”

    03 Bell Holding

    Bell chooses different rods for different crankbait applications. “I will use a 6 foot 9 inch medium action rod when fishing the Bandit 100 or 200 model,” advised Bell. “I step up to a 7 foot medium heavy action with the 300.”

    Fishing line is an important element in Bell’s strategy on Center Hill. “I will use 6- to 10-pound test line with the Bandits. If the water is super clear I opt for the 6-pound fluorocarbon line. If the water is stained I use 8 to 10 pound test. This lake is so clear I want as small a diameter as possible and the fluorocarbon helps too. On other area lakes, like Percy Priest where the water is murky, I’ll just use monofilament.”

    The banks slope off so quickly on Center Hill that fishing perpendicular to the bank has your bait in inches of water near the shore an multiple feet of water just a little ways off. “One of the keys here on Center Hill is recognizing that the banks slope off fast,” said Bell. “If you fish like you were fishing a flat reservoir you’re going to miss a lot of your vertical fall and miss a lot of fish.”

    04 Bell LandingPositioning the boat close to the bank or a steep bluff and casting Bandit crankbaits parallel to the bank will usually find some bass. “I have caught fish as deep as 30 feet in this lake,” explained Bell. “That’s normally in the winter time. Usually the bass are 15 feet or above on Center Hill.”

    “I let the fish tell me what they’re going to bite on a particular day,” instructed Bell. It is trial and error until you find out what hey want. You have to figure that out.”

    “Sometimes they like it right down the bank and sometimes they like it coming off the banks,” offered Bell. “If they are relating to 0- to 10- to 12-feet of water I will probably get tight to the bank and work straight down the bank. Throwing a Bandit 100 parallel to the shoreline will usually do the trick if they are in close. The 100’s will run from about 3- to 7-feet deep. If they are a little further out and a little deeper I move on up to the 200 which runs about 7- to 12-feet deep.”

    “I use the 300 when I fish a bluff with deep water. The Bandit 300 will run 9- to 17-feet deep. I like to cast parallel to the bluffs coming out of the creeks with a 300 series Bandit in a shad color. I would fish the main river channel swings the same way.”

    “If they want it coming off the bank I position the boat out away from the shore and cast back towards the bank. In this case I would throw jerk baits and work straight back to the boat. If there is a point running out I would cast straight at the bank and retrieve back across the top off the point.”05 Bell Snook

    Top water baits like the Zara Spook will catch plenty of fish too. “If the fish are suspended I will set off the bank and cast to the shoreline. If I set the boat over 30-foot water I would normally be about 60 feet from the bank and it is no problem to cast all the way in to the shoreline. I will fish the Spook back to about the 15 foot depth range.”

    Jim Duckworth also guides in the highland lake. “I like the One Knocker Zara Spook on Center Hill,” says Duckworth. For largemouth, stripers and hybrids you can’t go wrong. If I am targeting smallmouth I like the Super Spook Jr. The smallmouths just seem to like it better. (Click here to see a video on how Duckworth dresses his Spooks before taking them to the water.)

    Bell doesn’t worry a lot about lure color. “If the fish are on a shad pattern I’ll try to stay on the shad color,” explained Bell. “If they’re on a crawfish pattern I might want the crawfish color. I just like to stay on what ever they’re feeding on. I like the browns and oranges early in the year and as the spring comes on I get on into some blues and watermelon. I keep it pretty simple. There are a lot of baits out there that catch your eyes but don’t catch fish. I think it’s a confidence thing. Whatever you have the most confidence in is probably what you’re going to throw most of the day.”

    Lodging: Edgar Evins State Park

    Center Hill is well known for the fishing, but that’s not all it’s known for. Edgar Evins State Park is located on the shores of Center Hill Lake. The steep hilly highlands create an angling and sightseeing paradise just waiting to be explored. Day trips to other highland reservoirs in the area can be easily accomplished from this one central location.

    Full kitchens and two level accommodations characterize the cabins. They are clean, roomy, efficient and economical. A large window opens up to a view of the lake with a patio just outside. The park has a large onsite marina with restaurant and gift shop as well as seasonal campgrounds.

    Other Outdoor Opportunities

    Non-anglers in the party will enjoy the abundant wildlife the area has to offer. The park itself boasts of three different owl species, numerous hawks and wintering bald eagles as well as the rare Cerulean Warbler, a summer resident of the park’s mixed hardwood forests.

    Kayak and canoe enthusiasts can enjoy all of the above and more with an adventuresome paddle down the river below the dam. Deer and turkey are often spotted watering along the shore.

    Walking trails wind through stands of Tulip Poplar, Oak, Hickory, Buckeye and Wild Cherry. Adventuresome visitors can climb the spiral staircase at the observation tower to gain a spectacular view of Center Hill Lake and the surrounding hillsides. Truth is, however, you don’t even need to climb the tower to view some stunning vistas.

  • 05/06/2016 1:29 PM | Ron Presley (Administrator)

    Fishy River, Beautiful Scenery 

    It would be hard to find a more beautiful place. The Coosa River and the Tallapoosa River come together near Wetumpka, Alabama to form the Alabama River. It is a meandering river around Prattville in Elmore County Alabama. The river offers plenty of nooks and crannies for serious fishermen to investigate. 

    I had the opportunity to visit the area recently. Crappie Now, a free online magazine, hosted a Press Camp for outdoor writers with the expressed intent of show casing the great crappie fishing and tourism possibilities attached to the river. Dan “Crappie Dan” Dannenmueller, Crappie Now Publisher, describes the Alabama River as a nutrient rich river that supports the rapid growth of both white and black crappie. Alicia Jonathan RoadRunner

    Ziptailz and Road Runner teamed up to catch this Alabama River Crappie

    “The river is formed by a series of locks and dams that form pools,” indicated Dannenmueller. “Depending on current, power generation, river stages and weather, numerous crappie fishing techniques will work on the river. Crappies are caught exceeding 2 pounds and some will weigh over 3 pounds.”

    The river itself can have strong current when power is being generated or when the river is being pulled down for flood control purposes. Tributary creeks like Swift Creek and places like Cooter’s Pond give Prattville area anglers easy access to the river and also backwater fishing opportunities. There are numerous residential docks that provide some great dock shooting prospects. 

    Local anglers have nothing but praise for the Alabama River fishing. “I like fishing around the Prattville area because that’s where my first childhood memories of crappie fishing started,” said Jonathan Phillips. Jonathan and his wife Alicia Phillips are frequent competitors on the Bass Pro Shops Crappie Masters All American Tournament Trail.   

     “The community is very gracious and receptive to visiting anglers,” offered Jonathan. “I have often had strangers come up to me and offer their best advise about where to catch crappie. One of the Crappie Masters anglers told me that he has traveled all over the country in his fishing pursuits and has never stayed in an area where the people were as nice to be around as they are here on the Alabama River.” 

    Alicia Jonathan Congrats

    The size of Alabama River crappie is something to note. “That area of the river around Prattville is very scenic and it produces world class sized crappie to boot,” added Jonathan. “There are also lots of beautiful back waters to fish in the creeks off of the river. Plenty of habitat and plenty of bait in the river give the crappie everything they need to grow and be healthy.” 

    Jonathan and Alicia spend a lot of time spider rigging in the river and the backwaters. He starts his day by positioning his ACC Crappie Stix in Driftmaster Rod Holders. “I like the Driftmaster Crappie Stalker System because each holder is individually fastened to the deck. A bite on one pole will not transfer to another pole. Those Crappie Stalkers let you know exactly where the bite is.” 

    It is always a good idea to begin spider rigging by probing different depths of water with different colors of baits. Team Phillips often begins testing the water with Road Runner Jig Heads and Ziptailz interchangeable fishing skirts. “I can create any color combination I want,” instructed Jonathan. 

    Jonathan and Alicia were introduced to Ziptailz at Crappie Masters National Championship at Lake Washington in Greenville Mississippi. “Wayne Rossi, the owner, had just come out with the product,” explained Jonathan. “He had free samples laying out at the seminar. We weren’t doing very well so we decided to pair some up with our Road Runners.” 

    “It was day one of the tournament and lo and behold Alicia caught what was the big fish of the tournament for a while. She ended up getting beat out but it was in the top two or three of the tournament. That was our beginning with Ziptailz. They worked really well on those Mississippi waters and we have been using them ever where ever since.” 

    Ziptailz are so easy to use,” continued Jonathan. “People can pick one up and change color and profile of their presentation immediately. We usually put them on Road Runners, but you can also put them on single hooks, treble hooks or anything.” 

    Once his rods are set out Jonathan likes to position them. “We try to keep our rods at the same level so that if one of the rods don’t look like the others you either have a fish, you’re on structure or you’re on bottom. We begin with our poles set at different depths and rigged with different colored baits.” 

    “Once we develop a pattern of depth and color we change all the baits to match what has been successful,” added Alicia. “I really like the chartreuse colors. Chartreuse with red Ziptailz is my favorite color here on the Alabama river. Orange and black is another good color. We normally tip with minnows when we are spider rigging. If we are jigging or shooting docs we don’t use minnows.” 

    ”We prefer single jigs,” said Jonathan. “It’s all about the set up. The river has a ton of structure and people using double rigs get hung up a lot. Keeping bait in the water is more important to me. I would rather not be hung up as much. If you spend time getting out of messes, taking time to retie and spooking fish out of the holes that’s just wasted time. Keeping your bait in the water is key to successful fishing.” 

    “I often go from deep water into shallow as opposed to starting shallow and going out deep. You want to pick your fish off going in instead of going in on them and spooking them. Take a laydown or a tree. It is a good idea to fish out in front of it first before moving in to the base. If you go straight into the base you probably spook your fish at the front and you’re only going to get the fish from one part of that tree.” 

    Vertical structure should be approached differently. “If you have vertical structure, something coming off the bottom, then we start shallow and work deep, stated Jonathan. “ If the fish are stacked up over something off the bottom you don’t want to drop to the bottom and catch the fish on the very bottom first. When you pull a fish up through the school of crappie they’re all going to spread out on you. In that scenario we start shallow before going deeper. When that bite stops or slows down move on to another spot.” Alicia Jonathan Netting

    Most crappie anglers know that you always want to fish above the crappie. “Always listen to the old-timers,” advised Jonathan. “An old timer once told me that if you’re hooking crappie in the bottom lip your fishing to deep. Sometimes they will go down and get it but then rise back up to where they are suspended. Your line will go slack or your pole will come up flat. When you’re spider rigging you don’t always get those nice slamming hits. It may just be a subtle change so you’re always watching the line.” 

    “Jigging is a whole lot of fun,” said Jonathan. “However, if I’m going after the beasts, the big ones, I can present my bait anyway I want with the spider rigging set up. It’s challenging too. You have to know how to workaround structure and get unhung quickly. You are constantly watching the rods, controlling the boat with the trolling motor and checking the electronics. That’s why Alicia’s role is really important. A lot of time she handles the fish, gets me bait and stuff, so I can stay on that trolling motor. I have to control the boat for the entire time that we’re on the water without ever taking my eyes off the rods and the sonar. It’s a constant job.” 

    The Alabama River is a world-class crappie fishing destination. Whether you’re favorite way to catch crappie is spider rigging like Jonathan and Alicia, vertical jigging, pulling or casting, the Alabama River has something for you. 

    Epilogue: There is a lot more to do in Prattville than fish for crappie. Old Town Prattville is full of history. It is known as being one of the first planned communities in Alabama. The architecture features graceful arches, soaring ceilings and vast open spaces. It is hard to miss the interesting brick and stonework that characterize the buildings, all set in a picturesque site alongside Autauga Creek. 

    Jones Golf Course

    Other interesting attractions include the Capital Hill Golf Course at Prattville/Montgomery.  Capital Hill was designed by Robert Trent Jones, arguably the premier golf course architect in the world, as part of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail that currently consist of 468 championship holes at eleven sites it the state of Alabama. Capital Hill is a breathtakingly beautiful course and currently host to an event on the LPGA Tour.

    The Alabama Wildlife Federation operates a unique and amazing educational facility where kids and adults can learn about Alabama’s vast natural resources. Visitors can explore 5 miles of trails with experienced ANC naturalists. There are ponds, creeks and woods to investigate. Visitors can picnic on the grounds and check out the educational movies in the hands-on Discovery Hall. AWF Nature Center

    The area just off Interstate 65 is full of shopping, eating and lodging opportunities. We stayed at the Hampton Inn & Suites, just a stone’s throw from the Interstate; the Hampton offers clean and comfortable rooms, great Wi-Fi, and efficient workspace in every room. If you prefer you can use their computers and printers in the Business Center and get your daily exercise in the handy workout room. I like to eat a good breakfast before fishing and the free hot breakfast was excellent every morning. They describe their facility as “Small town charm meets big city convenience.” It couldn’t be said any better! Hampton Inn

    Whether it is fishing for crappie (or other species), playing golf, engaging in other water based activities or simply a restful family vacation, the Alabama River at Prattville, AL should be on your bucket list of places to visit. 

    For more area information visits the Prattville and Elmore County websites at, and

  • 04/02/2016 1:25 PM | Ron Presley (Administrator)

    Scenic Beauty and Fishy Waters 

    Crappie anglers like coming to Lake Greenwood because they catch fish in great numbers and they also catch quality size fish. Greenwood is a beautiful clear water lake and a pretty deep lake, especially up around the dam. It is a long narrow lake with plenty of crappie holding creeks coming into it. 

    The lake has some flooded timber in spots that make for excellent crappie fishing.  Most of the creeks have 20 feet of water with some going as deep as 30 feet. The water is deep enough that you don’t have to worry about hitting the stumps and tearing up your boat. The lake is also known for its man-made cover. Anglers have put out a lot of their own crappie attractors to improve fishing success. Slide 1 Billy

    There are residential docks where anglers can dock shoot, brush piles where they can one pole, and open water where they can spider rig or long line. Yet, with all those various methods available, Lake Greenwood is known as a long lining lake. That reputation probably comes from the fact that most crappie tournaments on Greenwood have been won by teams that long line troll. 

    One angler with a long history of long line trolling is Billy Williams. Billy and his son Scott make up the Johnson Fishing team that travel the county in search of heavy stringers of slab crappie. Their success speaks for itself. The father/son team has many tournament wins under their belt and most recently they won the Bass Pro Shops Crappie Masters Angler Team of the Year for 2015. Slide 3 Billy

    When it comes to long line trolling Billy is a bit of a legend himself. I met up with Billy at the Crappie Masters South Carolina State Championship in early March to pick up some tips about long line trolling on Lake Greenwood. 

    “Billy has been tournament fishing for a lot a lot a lot of years,” stated Crappie Masters president, Mike Vallentine. “He now fishes with his son Scott. He comes from Georgia with a good background in long line trolling. In fact, he is kinda’ known for it. He is very good at it. Billy is up there at that legendary statue among long line trollers. He also has a lot of knowledge of lakes all over the United States. When he shows up at a tournament he has probably been there before. There are not many unfamiliar waters to him.” 

    “I started crappie fishing about 40 years ago,” recalled Billy. “I have been tournament fishing about 30 of those years. I started tournament fishing back in the early 80’s with a friend of mine. I have been at it for a while.”  

    One we launched Billy was quick to explain the method of long line trolling that he has developed over the years. Also known as pulling, the technique pulls numerous baits behind the boat to cover a lot of water in search of the crappie. 

    “Today we will run 8 poles,” explained Billy. “Four out the back and 4 out the front.” Billy sat in the front watching his 4 poles, running the trolling motor and watching the sonar. I sat in the back watching my four B’n’M poles.  

    “I am running a 16-foot and a 12-foot B’n’M pole out each side,” instructed Billy.  “We will run four 10-foot B’n’M poles out of the Driftmaster Rod Holders in the back. Normally when we start off each morning we have a variety of colors on. We also have a variety of jig sizes either one or two jigs on the poles. You want a variety of things going on at the same time to see what is going to work as you start off every morning.” 

    We had not been trolling long before putting a Greenwood crappie in the boat. That first fish came on a ¼ ounce black/blue/chartreuse jig, one of Billy’s favorites. “The fish are pretty shallow in the water column so far. We will give it a try for a while and see what happens and go from there.” Slide 2 Ron

    “I am trying to run right on the contour of the first drop out of the creek,” explained Billy. “We are right up on the edge of the ledge. We will give that a try to start with. Then we will move on up on the ledge. I like to run down the ledge and around the edge of a point because that is where you find the fish concentrated. The first drop coming up on a channel is one of my favorite places.” 

    Billy uses Humminbird electronics to locate the depth of the fish and the depth of the shad. “I try to watch the sonar as much as I can and pay attention to where the fish are on the sonar. For example, I might go over a little school of shad. If the shad are running about 10 feet deep then I know those crappie are not going to be far away. The crappie will be running just under those shad and I want my jigs running about the same depth as those shad. That is the most likely depth to get a bite when those fish decide to feed.” 

    As we trolled along a couple of fish showed up on the Humminbird. “There’s one at 9 feet and there is another at 12,” said Billy. “That is just about where the fish have been all morning and we have been pulling just above them. I think the fish will move a couple to 3 feet up to strike the bait. If they see it they will chase it down. You can get too high and they don’t see it. You want to keep those jigs right there in the strike zone.” 

    Boat speed is a significant factor in successful long lining. “Speed is very important,” informed Billy. “If you are going too fast your jig is not where it needs to be. If you are going too slow your jig is not where it needs be. Sometimes, I don’t know what it is, fish will only bite at a certain speed. If you are going a little too fast you can’t get them to hit it and if you are going to slow your jig is below them and you are sure enough not going to get em.” 

    “If your jig is below the fish you will not catch them. When you are long lining and figure out you are below them you can speed up and bring that presentation up in the water column where it needs to be.” 

    “Every tenth of a mile per hour, .1, .2, .3, everyone of those is about a foot in terms of depth,” explained Billy. “If you are going .9 and running 8 foot you can speed up to 1 mph and you will be running at 7 foot. Speed is something I am watching all the time. I am always playing with it, adjusting it up and down. When I catch a fish I look and see how fast we was running.” 

    “The other thing is knowing how much line you have out,” said Billy. “When I am long line trolling I will play with the amount of line I have out. When I catch a good fish I try to remember how far that line was out so I can put it right back in the same place at the same speed.” 

    Billy identified wind as one of the things that can throw off his game plan. He has used drift socks, chains, and other things to slow down the boat in the past. Now he relies on Power Pole Drift Paddles to help him in the wind. “Those drift paddles really help us out in the wind,” continued Billy. “If the water is only 7 or 8 feet deep you can actually put those things down to where they are just bumping the bottom. They will hold you back and slow you down. If you get to going a little too fast you can put them all the way down and completely stop and then start slowly again.” 

    “You can also turn the paddles sideways and let them down where they are in the water enough to create a lot of drag on the back of the boat. This helps hold the boat straight. The paddles are a real good tool that helps us a lot in the wind.” 

    Billy’s eyes are constantly scanning the poles looking for a bite. Anything that looks a little different is a possible strike. “Mr. Ron you got a fish on that outside pole,” declared Billy. “I am watching the poles and the speed and watching everything constantly. If I am on a new lake I am trying to watch my contours too. I like staying on that first drop to see what is going on. I don’t even think about it. I am watching the poles all the time no matter what else I am doing. I am anticipating the bite.” 

    With the basics of long line trolling laid out Billy concluded with two pieces of advice for crappie anglers. “If I could pick just one color to go fishing with it would have to be a black/blue/chanteuse. Most of the time it will catch a fish when nothing else will. It would be hard for me to leave it at home.”

    His second piece of advice related to tipping with minnows. “A long time ago I used to say that if you can catch fish on a minnow then I can catch fish on a jig,” concluded Billy. “However, competitive fishing has taught me that you need to be versatile. Sometimes all it takes is a minnow on there to make the difference in catching some bigger fish or maybe catching any fish at all. I used to not think that. I have come to believe that you catch a little bigger fish when tipping with minnows.” 

    You may have your own favorite method of crappie fishing, but when you visit Lake Greenwood follow tradition and try some old fashion long line trolling. It is a proven and effective way to put some nice crappie in the boat. Slide 5 Sign

    Epilogue: The Greenwood, SC area provides excellent recreational opportunities for visitors. Lake Greenwood is well known for an abundant crappie population and its scenic beauty. It is not just the crappies that attract anglers to Lake Greenwood. The Lake is also a wonderful venue for kayaking, canoeing, and rowing. Lake Greenwood State Recreation Area provides easy access to the lake. The park has picnic areas, a campground, fishing pier, hiking trail and the Drummond Event Center, which can accommodate up to 272 people for group events. Slide 4 Pier

    Other fishing opportunities include bass, bream, perch, catfish and stripers. For more information on recreational opportunities visit the website at

    Lodging: We stayed at Inn on the Square and it was great. The facility is described as a boutique hotel. The rooms were clean, roomy and comfortable. The lobby is gorgeous and the staff amazing. Ever

    Slide 6 Inn

    yone went beyond the call of duty to make our stay a pleasant one. It is located in downtown Greenwood where there are plenty of restaurants and shopping opportunities close at hand. Travellers could not ask for a more convenient and accommodating location.

    I always look forward to breakfast before fishing. Not only was the breakfast excellent, the attendants’ make you feel like royalty. This is not the normal “breakfast with your room” type of deal. It is cooked especially for you from a menu that you select items from. You can choose up to 4 items off the menu, but if you do you will need to be 

    Slide 7 Breakfast

    rolled out in a wheelbarrow. Karen and I fell in love with Inn on the Square and will definitely return again.

  • 02/23/2016 1:19 PM | Ron Presley (Administrator)

    Catch Catfish with any Technique

    The Santee Cooper Lakes (Lake Marion and Moultrie) are owned and operated by Santee Cooper Power. Both lakes are great fisheries. Anglers come from all around to target largemouth bass, crappie, shell crackers and catfish.Catfish-Cagle

    Examples of the world-class fishing are the state records currently held by Santee Cooper anglers. They include largemouth bass at 16.2 pounds, black crappie at 5 pounds, chain (jack) at 6.4 pounds, shellcracker at 5.7 pounds, warmouth at 2.25 pounds, channel catfish at 58 pounds, Arkansas blue catfish at 109.4 pounds and flathead catfish at 77.3 pounds. Does that sound like a good place to go fishing?

    Anglers can choose from two lakes, two rivers, two canals and a vast swamp to try their fishing skills. There are 450 miles of shoreline and 171,000 acres of land covered by 756 billion gallons of water. “From fishable water to fishable water we have 165 miles of fishing,” said local fishing pro Whitey Outlaw. “I say Santee Cooper is the best freshwater lake on the east coast.” Outlaw grew up on Santee Cooper and he knows it well.

    Santee Cooper is a multi-species and multi-technique fishery. “Santee has always been popular among catfish anglers because it offers so much,” stated Cabela’s King Kat Tournament Trail spokesman Jeremy Coe.  “You can catch catfish with just about any technique and catch monster size fish in all 3 species.”

    Catfish-Mark Stanley

    The lakes are also famous for their abundant stock of landlocked striped bass. As the story goes, South Carolina traded some of Santee Cooper’s striped bass to Alabama  for some blue catfish. It was a trade made in heaven. Alabama now has some great striper fishing and Santee Cooper has a reputation as a big catfish fishery.

    “I would say Santee Cooper has a reputation as one of the best catfish waters in the US,” continued Coe. “All in all the popularity and reputation ranks up top with all the major rivers (Mississippi, Tennessee, and Ohio). Even people that have never fished Santee have heard about it. It is probably on their bucket list to fish.”Catfish-Kid

    Habitat is the main ingredient that produces big blues in Santee Cooper. “One thing good about these lakes is that the catfish grow really fast because they have everything they want,” stated Kevin Davis. Davis runs Black’s Camp, a fish camp on Lake Moultrie. “They have so many different types of baitfish coming in and out of the ocean, they have structure, drop offs, humps, creeks, cover, stumps, brush, rocks, and sandy areas. They have plenty of places to feed and grow big.”

    Probably the most popular technique for catching big catfish on Santee Cooper is drift fishing (dragging). Drift fishing is a productive way to catch Santee Cooper blue cats. Davis uses B’n’M Silver Cat rods rigged with a special drifting weight. “I use homemade leads that are a piece of shoestring full of 1/0 buckshot. I cauterize each end to hold the shot in and hook a snap swivel through the end of the shoestring. I run my mainline through the eye on the swivel and let it slide freely above a #5 barrel swivel. Two feet of 40-pound fluorocarbon leader is next with a 5/0 circle hook on the end. Six inches in front of the hook I add a 2-½ inch cigar float.”Catfish-Jenkins

    With this rig the shoestring full of buckshot is the only thing making contact with the lake floor. Even the Daiichi Circle Hook, with its shape and the little toenail on it, helps make it a very snag resistant setup. The rig is known locally as the Santee Cooper Drift Rig.

    Davis uses sonar to look for fish and mark the spot. He positions the boat above the fish and uses the wind to drift over the mark or uses the trolling motor to drag over it. The rods are set in Driftmaster Rod Holders to wait for the bite. Anglers should remember that using Daiichi Circle Hooks usually results in an automatic hook set when the big cat bites. Just lift the rod on the bite and allow the circle hook to do its job.

    Davis spools his reels with 20-pound test Vicious mono as the mainline. “As far as a rod, I like the B’n’M Silver Cat 8 foot medium weight,” declares Davis.  The first part of that rod is pretty loose and limber, and the second part is pretty stiff. It has a cord wrapped handle that grips really well, even with slimy hands. It is sensitive enough to feel the bites and has plenty of backbone to land big fish.”Catfish-2men

    Davis normally uses cut bait to catch the big blues. The cut bait may be anything from American shad (ocean herring) that start migrating into the lake around March to menhaden that also show up in the lake. “I like to use the head and big body chunks of the herring when they are available,” said Davis. Gizzard shad are also available locally and make good bait dead or alive.

    Davis has a theory on the big ones. “Once the fish go shallow and the anglers follow, the opportunity exists to catch that big solitary, lonely blue cat that lives by himself and stays by himself. I think once they reach a certain size they live the majority of their lives in shallow water. They don’t hang around with other catfish. They just hang by themselves. Very rarely do you catch a catfish over 60 pounds where you catch a lot of other catfish.”

    South Carolina fishing regulations allow anglers to keep two catfish, of any species, over 32 inches long. Anglers can keep a total of 25 catfish. Conservation minded anglers actually release those big breeder fish. They prefer catfish up to 10 or maybe 15 pounds for the dinner table. Most people think the smaller cats make better table fare anyway.Catfish-Jimmy Layla

    For more information on the Santee Cooper area visit the Santee Cooper Country website.

    For more information on Cabela’s King Kat Tournament trail visit their website. (Photos in this article were taken at the King Kat Tournament on Santee Cooper, February 19 and 20, 2016.)

    Epilogue: We stayed at a great Baymont Inn & Suites in Manning, SC. The rooms were clean and the staff was top notch. I always look forward to breakfast before fishing. Not only was the breakfast good at the Baymont, the attendant made us feel more than welcome. Plenty of restaurants and stores close at hand made it a most convenient location. One eatery I want to mention was the Corner Diner in Manning SC. It is that perfect small, local kind of place you always like to find while on the road. I liked this area and will definitely return again.

    One final note relates to a fishing derby that is one of the best fishing promotions I have ever seen. The opportunity is the Big Fish Big Bucks Fishing Derby. Prizes are given for fish caught on Lake Marion, Lake Moultrie and the Diversion Canal of the Santee Cooper Lakes in South Carolina. Check it out and plan a trip to catch your personal best catfish and win a few bucks at the same time.

  • 01/30/2016 1:17 PM | Ron Presley (Administrator)

    The games we play - Float-n-fly for crappie

    Alabama crappie guide Lee Pitts refers to crappie fishing as a game you play with the fish. He often plays the game on Neely Henry Lake near Gadsden, AL. “Some days you go out there and you can’t do any wrong,” said Pitts. “Other days you get out there and they show you its not that easy. Nevertheless, it is always fun. With crappie fishing I can take someone that’s never even fished and they still catch crappie. They get to enjoy the feel of the fish hitting the line and see the rods load up. I get a kick out of seeing them have fun.”


    Neely Henry is a 11,235-acre lake on the Coosa River. It was built in 1966 by Alabama Power Company to provide hydroelectric power and recreation. “Neely is mainly a river system,” explained Pitts. “There are several little rivers that hook up with the Coosa. Canoe Creek and Shoal Creek are good examples. Both are great spawning areas for crappie. Not only spawning spots, but crappie will also summer there too because of the good deep water. Those creeks will hold crappie in the spring and fall, year after year.” 

    The day I fished with Pitts the weather threw us a curve ball by turning cold and windy. “Don’t worry,” advised Pitts. “One of the benefits of Neely is the wind breaks that exist naturally.” The main body of the lake is narrow and it meanders through the countryside creating numerous areas to hide from windy conditions. 

    We motored down river and found a small protected bay just off the main channel that was relative smooth despite the high winds. The shoreline was lined with residential docks and the bay varied from 4 to 6 feet deep. “I’ve caught em’ here before,” counseled Pitts. “We will use the float-n-fly technique and see what we can raise.” 

    “There are a couple of times a year we like to use the float-n-fly,” instructed Pitts. “One is a cold water situation like we have today where fish are not wanting to chase something down to eat. Using the float-n-fly techniques allows you to slow that presentation down and keep it in the strike zone longer.” 

    “It’s not a presentation that raises up and drops down in front of them,” continued Pitts. “Because the bait is suspended on the cork it is going to drop right in front of them and stay there. We want to give them the best opportunity to eat it without having to chase it.”   

    “Another time we use it is towards the spawn,” explained Pitts. “When they’re really holding tight to cover, shallow stumps and things like that. The float-n-fly allows anglers to cover a lot of water and keep it in the desired depth with that float.” 

    Pitts prefers a very light line when using float-n-fly in cold conditions. “I want a line that will allow my bait to have a lot of action. The line has to permit the bait to do what it is designed to do. I am using my Bobby Garland products, my Baby Shad and my Slab Slay'Rs. I’m rigging them on Crappie Pro's Overbite Sickle Mo' Glo Jigheads. These are glow-in-the-dark colors with a larger size 6 sickle hook. It is a larger hook, but it still holds small baits well. I think I get better penetration with the larger hook.”   

    Pitts Single

    The float actually adds enough weight that anglers can make long casts with very light jigheads. “I don’t like heavy heads,” exclaimed Pitts. “I want that more natural presentation you get with a light head. I’m using 1/32 and 1/48 ounce heads. That light weight lets the bait move like it is designed to in the water column. It’s not something that looks unnatural. It’s got a natural presentation to it.” 

    Fishing is relatively easy with the float-n-fly presentation. “The presentation begins with trial and error,” instructed Pitts. “I use a 7-foot medium action rod, but that’s just me. As long as you have a rod you can cast it will work. I spool up my Lews reel with Gamma 6-pound test line. 

    “I use the Gamma hi-vis because you can see it well. You have to watch that line for even the slightest of movement from side to side. People think you don’t have to pay attention to the line since you are using a float. That is not true. Sometimes that float is just setting there and line below it is moving. Other times the crappie hits so hard the float comes up as the weight is lifted from it. The hi-vis line is important because it will let you know when you have a bite when the cork won’t. You are always watching the line, watching the float.” 

    Pitts does not use a leader in his rig. “I am tying straight to the jighead, even though I am using a cork between the jighead and me. I can still feel the bite with this rig. Normally I will use a medium torpedo type float, about 3 inches long, with a little weight in the end to keep it upright. Having that cork vertical in the water helps you see the lightest of bites.” 

    If there is a little ripple on the water Pitts goes to an egg shape float. “I get a better shake from an egg shaped cork in rippled water. More action on the bait usually translates to more bites.” 

    The basic presentation is to toss the rig out and once the jig settles in the water begin to twitch the rod to invoke a little action on the bait. “I like to start out working shallow and just get the feel for it,” explained Pitts. “I play with different depths while I am fishing. It is a lot of trial and error. I will change depths by 5 to 8 inches as I prospect the waters. All of a sudden you catch a couple fish and you know you are in em’, you know the depth to fish.” 

    “When you’re fishing for crappie a few inches makes a big difference,” continued Pitts. “If you are going under them by 10 or 12 inches you’re never going to catch them. Crappie feed up, but you can’t fish too shallow either. Unless they’re very aggressive, they don’t want to run things down from a distance. If you’re bringing it right across where they like it and you’re in the strike zone, then you will get em’. Wind Break

    Another thing that’s important in crappie fishing is the color. “Especially with crappie, color makes a lot of difference,” instructed Pitts. “A lot of people say it doesn’t matter, but I have had several people on the boat throwing the same weight and body but a particular color will catch the fish. Experience has made a believer out of me. Even the head color can make a difference so don’t be afraid to experiment.” 

    Epilogue: Neely Henry and the Gadsden, AL area provides excellent recreational opportunities for visitors. It is not just the crappies that attract anglers to Neely Henry. Other fishing opportunities include largemouth bass, spotted bass, bluegill and other sunfish, catfish, striped bass, hybrid and white bass. For more information on recreational opportunities available in North Alabama visit the website at

    We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express on Walker Street and it was great. The rooms were clean and the staff went beyond the call of duty to make our stay a pleasant one. Plenty of restaurants and stores close at hand made it a most convenient location. I always look forward to breakfast before fishing. Not only was the breakfast good, the attendant made us feel more than welcome. I liked this Inn and will definitely return again. 

  • 12/30/2015 1:16 PM | Ron Presley (Administrator)

    A large variety of fish attract anglers to Georgia’s Rome 

    Cody Benton grew up in and around Rome, Georgia. With that kind of environment and a fishing family he was destined to be an angler. 

    The city of Rome is nestled in among seven prominent hills that create magnificent vistas in every direction. Running between those hills are three rivers that form what is described as North America's most biologically diverse river basin. The Coosa River Basin draws the attention of anglers and water lovers of all varieties.  Bassin on the Coosa-Cody Photo

    Rome is located at the head of the Coosa River. The Oostanaula River comes flowing from the north and the Etowah River from the east to form the headwaters of the Coosa River Basin. It continues south through Weiss Lake in Alabama and finally to Mobile Bay. Those waters are prime territory for area anglers. 

    Benton developed his passion for fishing at an early age. “I have always fished growing up as a kid,” offered Benton. “It was farm ponds and stuff. When I was about 14 or 15 years old I went with my uncle in a little small johnboat. We went to Carter’s Lake and fished for a few hours. Ever since then I have been hooked. It was not long, a couple months later, that I got my first boat.” 

    “Getting that first boat really started me on the road to something I love to do. I have actually given up a lot of hunting for fishing. I used to be super passionate about deer hunting, now I deer hunt to put a little meat on the table, but my drive is to go fishing.” 

    Benton did some tournament fishing early on, but returned to fishing just for fun. “I don’t tournament fish like I used to,” explained Benton. “I use to fish them a lot. Now I fish closer to home. I have a lot of good fishing inside two hours of home.” 

    Weiss Lake is one of seven a power generating lakes on the Coosa. This means that the current in the river is always going to be tied to a generating schedule. “The water leaves here and goes to Neely Henry,” explained Benton. “It leaves Neely Henry and it goes to Logan Martin and then on to several other lakes. That is considered the Coosa chain of lakes.” 

    “When they draw the lake down in the fall it drops the river as well and it cuts out a lot of the cover on the riverbank,” instructed Benton. “The fish don’t have so many places to hide. It increases your chances tremendously to fish the lower water conditions. It takes away some of the ledge in the river, the first ledge they might hang on.” 

    Lowering the water in the winter is it a flood control thing. “They do that every winter,” said Benton. “They bring it back up in the spring. That is the way a lot of the lakes around here are. The river driven lakes drop in the winter and rise back up in the spring. Low water in the lake and river increases the fishing odds to me.” 

    Choosing the right fishing line is an important part of Benton’s fishing strategy. “It depends on what I am doing,” explained Benton. “If I am throwing a spinner bait I want 15- to 20-pound fluorocarbon. That’s just me. If I am fishing a spinner bait, 20 feet deep on a ledge, I will drop down to 12- to 15-pound fluorocarbon. It is pretty basic, pretty much the same day or night.” 

    “If I am fishing a jig I am throwing it on 15- to 20-pound fluorocarbon depending on how deep I am fishing. A lot of times they get in the shade and stay hid trying to ambush prey. Weiss Lake has a lot of residential docks. I put the jig up under the docks.” 

    “I will throw chatter baits and, spinner baits the same way. I might go with a 12-pound test on a worm or 15-pound test if I am using a lighter sinker. That’s because I just want to skim the top of that grass. I don’t want it going down in the grass. With that lighter line I can feel it relax better then if the line is heavy, I can just pull it on through. If I use the lighter line I can use a lighter sinker. If I have 20-pound test line I gotta’ use a ¼ ounce sinker. The heavy line falls a little quicker. 

    Sometimes Benton wants braided line. “Braid has its place,” remarked Benton. “If I am punching through matted grass or throwing a frog I use braid. I throw a frog on braid all the time. If I am fishing in a farm pond I’m throwing a frog on braid because you have to have that immediate hook up. You gotta’ hit them right away with a frog. I have seen folks fish frogs on 15- or 20-pound fluorocarbon, but that is not what I am going to do. 

    “I will throw a buzz bait on braid sometimes,” continued Benton.  “In that case I don’t want to set the hook I just want to turn into that fish, I want no give in my line. When they load the pole I want to set the hook by turning my rod away from them and continuing to reel. That is where I don’t want the stretch. I don’t want to jerk the hook out of the fish’s mouth.” 

    Sink rate is the key. “When I use crankbaits, spinner baits, chatter baits, worms, all of that, anything that is going to be submerged from the top of the water column I want to use fluorocarbon. The reason is simple, fluorocarbon sinks and monofilament floats.” 

    Benton has one basic application for mono. “The only time I throw monofilament is on a topwater lure like a Zara Spook or a walk-the-dog type lure.” 

    Savvy bass anglers learn to identify fish behavior. “It all happens in cycles,” indicated Benton. “Knowing what the bass are doing will increase your odds of catching them. The bass are on beds, they spawn, and then they are post spawn. For example, when the bass start post spawn the shad start spawning. The first topwater bite of the year is usually related to that shad spawn. You should concentrate your fishing around spawning shad right at dark or right at daylight.” 

    Benton’s knowledge of fishing is a function of growing up in a fishing family, learning from others, and spending a lot of time on the water. It certainly didn’t hurt that he grew up at the confluence of three tributaries that dumps into a lake near Rome, GA. 

    Not only is the Coosa River Basin one of the top bass fisheries in the Southeast, it has many other species to target. Big largemouths, big spotted bass, hybrid bass, striped bass, monster bluegill, crappie and catfish all attract anglers to Rome. It could be described as a fisherman’s paradise.

    For more information on Georgia's Rome visit their website

  • 11/30/2015 1:07 PM | Ron Presley (Administrator)

    Music Cats and Blue Cats 

    Colbert County, Alabama is a special place. A place that is especially attractive to anglers, but also to tourists in general. Anglers are attracted to the great fishing and tourists are attracted to the area’s beauty and a rich history in the music culture. 

    Brian Barton is a fishing guide in Colbert County. Just talking to Barton will get you excited about fishing there. Barton specializes in catfish, smallmouth bass and stripers. I travelled to Colbert County to sample the catfish possibilities. 

    One of Barton’s specialtie is half-day catfish trips. Although any trip can be influenced by weather and the bite can change, Barton has an expectation based on his experience. “On an average trip, say 7:00 am to lunch, I would expect 15 to 18 catfish with a 50/50 chance of a 40 pound-plus fish and almost always one fish in the 20- to 30-pound range. Half of those fish are going to be perfect eaters in the 3- to 10-pound class.” 

    Alabama Music Hall of Fame

    The Alabama Music Hall of Fame is a treasure trove of music history.

    Barton lives in Muscle Shoals, AL, an area referred to as “The Shoals.” Muscle Shoals, Tuscumbia, Sheffield and Florence make up this area that has a long history in the music industry. It was, in fact, the birthplace of the famous Muscle Shoals Sound. “There was a sound here called the Muscle Shoals Sound,” explained Barton. “You know that song, ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ by Lynyrd Skynyrd? There is a line in the song that says ‘Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers’.” 

    “The Swampers were a group of five men and they had a unique sound that couldn’t be reproduce anywhere else,” continued Barton. “That sound brought all these musical cats in here to do their recording. People like Aretha Franklin, Wilson Picket Little Richard and a whole lot more came here to record.” 

    Now, visitors to “The Shoals” have the opportunity to investigate some of that music history by visiting such places as the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, the W.C. Handy Home and Museum, the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio Museum and the famous FAME Recording Studios. 

    Net Catfish

    Barton nets a nice "eater."

    With music history as a backdrop Barton is making music of his own. He regularly hooks up willing clients to drag-screaming catfish on Wilson Lake, the smallest of the TVA lakes. “There is 17 miles of water, dam to dam,” reported Barton. “These Wilson fish are different than Guntersville and Pickwick fish. Wilson is a bathtub lake and a little hard to fish.” 

    Barton went on to explain that Guntersville and Pickwick have more off shore structure to fish. “Wilson doesn’t have as many Islands, ditches, mounds and humps and because Wilson is much deeper it also has slower current flows. That’s OK though, because I am often the only one on the lake. I don’t see many other boats unless it is a weekend or holiday.” 

    Catfish are so plentiful in Alabama there is no limit on the numbered of fish anglers can keep, however they can only keep one fish over 34 inches. Barton is a conservationist at heart. ”I release all fish over 10 pounds and prefer to release everything over five pounds,” announced Barton. His clients can keep 10 fish each under the 10 pound weight to take home for the dinner table. 

    Catfish 2

    The author gets one for the dinner table.

    Barton says the best time to make those meat fishing trips are April, May and June and then later in September and October. “Meat trips are high demand,” commented Barton. “I think people look at catfishing in two different ways. The first is recreational because they get to have fun catching them. The other is to put some good food on the table. They are likely to carry 75 or 100 pounds of dressed fish home for the freezer. They view taking the fish home as a trade off for paying the guide and having the fun of catching them.” 

    Anglers don’t have to bring a thing as far as equipment is concerned, Barton has some of the best already on board and ready to go. “When I gear up for a meat trip I use B’n’M Silver Cat spinning rods. I spool the ABU Garcia Reels with 30-pound test Vicious Braid. Anglers are welcome to bring their own gear if they want, but it’s not necessary.” 

    CatfishBarton with a pair of nice "eaters."

    Targeting eaters is primarily a shallow water thing. “We will be fishing 15- to 20-feet deep as opposed to open lake fishing for big cats which would be in 50- to 70-foot water,” explained Barton. That is the difference between catching the eaters and the trophy fish.” 

    “We are going to be casting, using split shot for weight and smaller hooks on spinning gear. I like Tru-Turn hooks, either a 1/0 or 2/0 standard crappie hook. Our targets for meat fishing are 2 to 5 pound fish. We will catch an occasional 8 to12 pounder, but with a good drag you can handle those bigger fish on the light tackle. It is more fun too.”  Catfish 3

    The primary baits for eater catfish is shad guts, chicken livers and cut shad minnows. “Shad guts work really well if you get it fresh,” said Barton. “They can be a problem if you buy them at the bait shop and they have been frozen and thawed a couple times. Then they can be hard to keep on a hook. Fresh is best for casting.” 

    “You can just go to the store and buy some good old fashion chicken livers,” advised Barton. “They are a great bait for the eater catfish on the Tennessee River. If I had to choose between store-bought frozen shad guts and chicken livers, I’d take the livers.” 

    “If you can get small 2 to 3 inch gizzard or threadfin shad you can use them whole,” explained Barton. “For eaters though, I would cut larger shad down to about the size of a silver dollar. If my “no catch no pay” was on the line I would downsize even further with smaller hooks and smaller baits. My all-round favorite bait is small pieces of cut shad.” 

    Barton described our day’s fishing hole as a series of locks and canals that had been build to aid navigation on the Tennessee River. “They are like locks that you see today,” explained Barton. They are made out of concrete, just a smaller version. They flooded all that structure and man you can catch some cats around it. You talk about a catfish honey hole.” 

    “It is a hangy jungle down there,” warned Barton. “The catfish get suspended on top of all that structure. If you can keep your bait up above the jungle you can catch some fish and get them out. I don’t know what it is, maybe old trotlines over the years, but that old lock structure is full of hangs and it is full of fish.” 

    Barton likes to use the Spot-lock feature on his Minn Kota trolling motor or anchor right in the middle of a lock. “I have never caught any big catfish here. I use light tackle and target the eaters. Just cast out over the lock, which is about 20 feet deep, and pull it off the ledge where it drops to deeper water. It requires a little skill, but it is fun and productive fishing.” 

    Barton recalls many memories of great fishing days over the locks. One included his son and a need for some catfish for a fish fry. “It was on April 19on lock 5,” revealed Barton. “We documented it. Me and my son bought a 2 quart container of fresh shad guts, normally enough to fish for two days. It was a Saturday morning and we got on the water above the lock at 7:00 am. We were out to catch some catfish for a fish fry. We ran out of shad guts at 9:30 am and had 89 catfish.” 

    “We had fish laying in the floor. We had fish everywhere and every one of them was a perfect one- to three-pound fish. Those locks are stacked up with them. That’s why I like to guide on them for meat trips.” 

    SmalliesTwo nice smallies that came from Pickwick Lake. 

    Barton also guides for stripers. 

    Barton also guides for smallmouth bass, stripers and trophy catfish. Each species is a little different. Fishing for smallies and stripers is mostly on nearby Pickwick Lake. 


    Chasing catfish, however, be they eaters or trophy cats, will find Barton on his home waters of Wilson Lake. 

    Visit Barton’s website at Brian Barton Outdoors or he can be reached by email at

    For more information on Colbert County visit their website at

    Epilogue: On a personal note, there are plenty of fine eateries in the Shoals area. One I liked in particular was a place called Champy’s. It is one of those places that is so good you want to tell everyone about it. They are known for their chicken, but everything we had, including the onion rings and believe it or not the tamales we had as starters. Just mosey on in when you got a little time to wait on your order. The chicken is prepared fresh while you wait and it is worth the wait! Don’t miss it if you are in the area.

    The other place that came out on top was a little Mexican diner that Brian Barton told us about. It is a family run place and the food is outstanding. If you need a Mexican food fix, Casa Mexicana is the place to get it. I guess I should confess, we went to Casa Mexicana twice during our short stay in the Shoals. It was that good.

  • 10/02/2015 1:06 PM | Ron Presley (Administrator)

    Runnin’ and Gunnin’ for West Point Strippers 

    West Point Lake, near LaGrange, GA, is both a productive and fun place to fish. The area offers anglers a variety of fish and non-anglers plenty of things to do. The anglers in the party will have the opportunity to catch large mouth bass, strippers, hybrids, spotted bass, crappie, bream and catfish. Popper Lure

    For non-anglers the city of LaGrange is only minutes away with shopping, dining and other entertainment. Activities range from dabbling in Civil War history at Bellevue, the antebellum home of noted Georgia statesman Benjamin Harvey Hill, to examining life in ancient Israel at Explorations in Antiquity. If more modern adventures are your cup of tea a real-time walking tour of downtown LaGrange is available and there’s an APP for that. 

    With a shoreline of more than 500 miles anglers have all kinds of nooks and crannies to investigate. The lake contains over 26,000 acres of surface water as it tracks along and even crosses the Georgia/Alabama State line. 

    When the Corps of Engineers created lakes like West Point it was mainly for flood control and hydroelectric power. The huge bonus of that activity was the provision of excellent habitat for fish and wildlife and general recreation opportunities for residents and visitors to Southwest Georgia. When the dam was built and the lake was flooded, numerous trees and other structures were left standing. That standing timber provides excellent fish habitat. Man-made fish attractors have also been added to the lake to improve angling opportunities. 

    Anglers that enjoy fishing for schooling strippers and white bass will love West Point. Like any unknown lake, a first time visitor would be ahead to hire guides for a days fishing before venturing out on his or her own. You can learn more from a guide on a half-day trip than you can learn on your owns in months. 

    Choppy Water

    The lake will vary based on generating schedules or flood control activities. “Sometimes they are dumping water for flood control purposes and the water level can drop,” commented Matt McClung, an area guide.  “When that happens it changes the location of the fish because some of their habitat is lost to the lower water level.” This is exactly why it is beneficial to hire a guide who is familiar with current conditions.   

    McClung reported that the lake has been producing a lot of white bass and smaller strippers all summer. “To find the hybrids busting on the top it is nice to have it calm,” explained McClung. “They get hard to spot in the chop of a windy day.” 

    On the day I fished with McClung the weather did not cooperate. We didn’t get the calm day he had hoped for. Nevertheless, it did not take long to spot the white flashes of a feeding frenzy in the choppy water. 

    McClung is very much a fish for fun guy and likes to throw artificials. He started out throwing an umbrella rig. “It’s called a Yellow Hammer Rig,” explained McClung. “It is made by a tour fishing buddy of mine, Kyle Mabrey.” Yellow Hammer Rig Stripper

    “I throw these at anything,” continued McClung. “If you are around schooling baitfish the umbrella rig works. It is like a smaller school broke off of the bigger school and it provides a great attraction to hungry fish. The Yellow Hammer is heavy enough to get it way on out there. I often catch three on one cast using it. The one drawback is that it will wear you out if you throw it all day long.” 

    I left the heavy lifting to McClung and his Yellow Hammer Rig. I was tossing a white inline spinner bait that the bass loved. McClung hooked up first and the school went down. “We have the possibility of white bass, hybrid stripped bass, stripers and spotted bass,” declared McClung. “Spots will mix right in with the others and occasionally you will even pick up a large mouth in there with them.” 

    A few more casts followed without success after the school went down. “We gotta’ go,” instructed McClung. “There is nothing like a topwater bite and we need to find some more on top.” 

    We ran down the lake until another school was spotted and repeated our process of casting to the school. This time McClung handed me a topwater popper. The fish just went crazy over it. If one would miss it another would strike. The topwater bite was indeed the most fun of the two lures I had thrown. 

    Another boat that had spotted the frenzy came in and also started hooking up. The area containing the surface breaking fish was big enough that several other boats could have fished them too. Just like the first school, this school went down and the action stopped. “That’s the way it works,” explained McClung. “You fish them as long as you can and then move on to the next school.” Stripper Ron

    “If you don’t find schooling fish on top you can start trolling and catch them,” explained McClung. “It’s just not as much fun for me. I like to be more active and involved with my fishing.” The run and gun approach fits him just fine. 

    “When the striper bite gets strong is when the bait gets suspended over the humps,” said McClung. “The fish will be in the main channel in 15 to 20 feet of water where some of that timber comes all the way to the surface. When it is calm the bait will suspend there all day long, unlike a windy day in August where bait gets pushed around and is hard to keep up with. That’s why we are having to run so much today.” 

    Shoreline anglers can also catch strippers, especially in the fall when the water begins to cool. “A lot of times in the evenings and the morning the bait will go to the bank.  An example is when it gets cooler overnight and the shoreline cools down. The bait will move into that cooler water. The wind might push them in there too.” According to McClung everything gets predictable in the fall.  “By mid September the bait is going to hold in the timber during the day and come into the creeks, especially the small creeks, every single evening. The fish will follow them in. During the day they are basically roaming the main channel and will follow that bait when it moves.” 

    We motored by Pyne Road Park where tournament weigh-ins are held on West Point. It has a giant ramp, one of the biggest in the country. “Anglers come right here on the bank and catch plenty of strippers,” replied McClung. “When the fish come up in this creek in the fall they are easily reachable by anglers casting lures under popping corks.” 

    “Sometimes they come up to the surface, sometimes they just stay down,” explained McClung. “Anglers will be standing side by side along that bank when they are running. You can throw on em’ and catch em’ with bucktail jigs, spoons or whatnot. It is absolutely predictable in the fall of the year.” 

    Fishing is not the only thing going for West Point Lake and the LaGrange area. Other water related activities include boating, skiing, tubing, jet skiing and more. If you just want to relax there is an inviting sandy beach to sunbathe and unwind. Of course a sunset ride around the lake in a rented pontoon boat can be pretty relaxing too. 

    So bring your own boat and use a slip at the Highland Marina Resort, or take the hassle out of travelling and just rent one. Whether you are fishing or just exploring one of their center console boats will do the job. 

    Where to Stay 

    Any traveling fishing trip requires a place to stay and one of the best for fishing West Point Lake is Highland Marina Resort. It is located just outside Lagrange and right on the banks of the lake. Even the non-anglers in the party will have plenty to do at Highland Marina Resort. Resort

    What a great view. Notice the reflections in the windows

    Whether it is for the great fishing or just a family getaway, it would be pretty hard to beat a stay in LaGrange at Highland Marina Resort on West Point Lake

  • 08/31/2015 1:01 PM | Ron Presley (Administrator)

    Three ways to catch crappie on Lake Blackshear 

    What began as a fishing excursion turned out to be a whole lot more. The destination was Lake Blackshear near Cordele, GA. Blackshear is known as a good crappie lake and I wanted to get a sampling. Road Trip-Lake Blackshear-Photo-1

    As you get off I-75 and turn west into Cordele it looks like any other busy Interstate intersection. You see the usual array of restaurants, gas stations and hotels, but as you drive through the development around the interstate you find the charm of a small Georgia town and a friendly atmosphere oozing with southern hospitality. 

    Our first stop was actually just outside and opposite the welcoming gates to Lake Blackshear. You can tell at first sight this little country store is going to be something different. Maybe it is the huge pink pig on the porch? With a little research I found out that the Stripling’s General Store dates back over 50 years from humble beginnings as a small grocery store to what it is today. It has been in its current location near Lake Blackshear since 1991. 

    Stripling’s is an outdoorsman’s dream store. Hunters and fishers alike can stop in and stock up for the days activities. I always look first for the Beanie Weenies. They had em’ and I knew I have found my food source for my visit to Blackshear. 

    The little general store handles a full line of grocery items. Specialty items from pickled quail eggs, jams and jellies, and jerky will appeal to most outdoorsmen’s tastes. Every morning their warming cases are stocked with breakfast items and before noon they are filled with hot grab-and-go lunch items. Their carryout food is quick, easy and delicious. 

    The Stripling reputation for service and quality comes from a long history that started with a special recipe for Stripling’s Sausage. Sausage is their specialty, but their meat case holds so many options it will give a hungry angler just what he looking for. Believe me, you don’t want to miss this place. As they say at the store, “You Never Sausage A Place.” 

    We left the Stripling’s General Store and headed to Lake Blackshear Resort & Golf Club. The name itself indicates golfing possibilities. If you are a golfer you will love it. The beautiful golf course is recorded on Golf Digest magazine's list of four star-rated courses. Just like the rest of the area the course is immaculately kept and beautiful.Road Trip-Lake Blackshear-Photo-1.5

    We were greeted at the registration desk with more southern hospitality and a clean and comfortable room was ready for our stay. The screened-in porch overlooking the lake was perfect for sipping coffee and watching the sunset. 

    There is an excellent workspace with a comfortable chair and Wi-Fi for connecting to the world outside if needed. Given the natural surroundings of the resort, I have to confess that my desire to connect with others was not that high. I was more into the wild deer passing through the grounds, the Canadian Geese honking on the lakeshore, and the crappie fishing on the lake.   

    The resort sets inside the Georgia Veterans Memorial State Park. Operated by the State of Georgia, the park is a tribute to Georgia's military veterans. A museum on site displays medals, uniforms, weapons, vehicles, aircraft and other items that span the time from the Revolutionary War through the Gulf War. 

    Lake activities include boating, jet skiing, water skiing, fishing and swimming. You can bring your own boat or rent one at the Georgia Veterans State Park Marina. With all the various activities available on Blackshear I was there to sample one. My mission was to find out more about crappie fishing on Lake Blackshear.   

    Dock Shooting for Crappie 

    After a great nights rest at the resort, I met up with local angler Rusty Parker. Parker has been fishing Lake Blackshear since he was around 4 years old. He lives in Cordele and considers Lake Blackshear his home lake. 

    The shoreline of Lake Blackshear is lined with residential docks. It is the perfect setup for anglers like Rusty that like to fish around docks for crappie. Dock shooting is a method of using the leverage of a fishing rod to sling small crappie jigs back under and around docks. 

    “My favorite style of fishing is dock shooting,” remarked Parker. “I have been doing it now for about 25 or 30 years. It is a very productive way to catch crappie on Blackshear.” Road Trip-Lake Blackshear-Photo-2

    It is all about angles and obstructions according to Parker. “You have to read the docks,” instructs Parker. “You have to avoid things like crossties and cables that might hang you up. The crappie like the shade produced by the dock and if you can choose the right angle and shoot the bait under there the chances of catching one are good.” 

    Parker has perfected the technique to the point that he can sail his tiny 1/24-ounce jig through an opening no more than 4 or 5 inches above the water and only a few inches wide. “I want that tiny jig to sink at a slow rate. I shoot it back under a dock and leave it alone as I watch the line for the smallest of movement. Sometimes you don’t feel a thing, you just see the line move. That’s the time to set the hook.” 

    Parker makes it sound easy, but in reality it takes a little skill, probably best achieved through lots of practice. Parker likes to remind anglers that the same technique, once developed, can also be used to fish train trestles, bridges or overhanging trees with great success. 

    “You are always going to catch fish on Blackshear,” said Parker. “There is someone out there catching fish anytime. The heat of the summer is the toughest, but I don’t ever give up. The best time to come is in the fall. Once the water temperature begins to fall the bite picks up. When the heat wave starts breaking down and you start getting into the 50s and 60s on Blackshear that is the time to fish.” 

    Fishing the River Channel 

    Stephen Cremshaw is another local angler with years of fishing experience on Blackshear. He has been pinned with the nickname “Mr. Wildlife” because of his knowledge of all the plants and animals around the lake. One of his favorite methods to catch crappie on Blackshear is fishing the old river channel. 

    “I like to suspend on the old channel of the Flint River,” explains Cremshaw. “I set several poles on each side of the boat and slow troll the river channel parallel to the old riverbank.” 

    Cremshaw’s techniques are back to basic and he uses the same set up year around. “I like to use 16-foot telescopic poles, no reels,” informs Cremshaw.  “I use single minnow rigs. The double minnow rigs they sell for crappie don’t work well here.” 

    His setup seems simple enough, but he adds his secret ingredient. “I add colored beads to my rig to attract the crappie. Just a little plastic bead, you will be surprised how it will catch their eye.” 

    Over time Cremshaw has tweaked his presentation until he discovered what he thinks works best on Blackshear. “Selecting the beads has been trial and error.  I have found green and red to be the standard colors that work most of the time. I am up to three beads now. It depends on the time of the year. You have to try them until you find the right combination.” 

    Cremshaw’s completed rig includes a 3/8-ounce bullet weight slid up the main line followed by three beads and a swivel. Once the swivel is tied it holds the other items on the line. Then he adds a 12-inch leader with hook and a minnow. “I like to start shallow near the old river bank and work out to deeper water. Once I find the right depth I use Humminbird side imaging and down imaging to stay in the depth of water where the crappie are holding.” 

    Cremshaw says the crappies see those beads out of the corner of their eye and come over to investigate the beads and find your bait. He says some colors don’t work on certain days, so don’t be afraid to experiment. 

    Lake Blackshear Brush Piles

    A third way to catch crappie on Lake Blackshear is to fish the brush piles. Over the years anglers have put out their own brush piles to attract crappie. This is a legal activity as long as the brush piles do not interfere with navigation in any way. Once deployed the brush piles become public property. Modern technology, like that created by Humminbird, has made it easier to find these submerged crappie havens. Road Trip-Lake Blackshear-Photo-Scott

    Even though he lives in Cochran, GA, crappie fishing pro Scott Williams considers Blackshear to be one of his home waters. He has fished the lake for many years and has placed a few of those brush piles himself. Scott and his daddy Billy Williams were recently named the Bass Pro Shops Crappie Masters Angler Team of the Year. They know a little about crappie fishing.  

    According to Scott, when the fish are in the main lake they tend to congregate around brush piles. This is where they are most of the summer. “If I haven’t done any prefishing I will use side imaging on brush piles,” comments Williams. “Go from brush pile to brush pile until you find some fish on them.” 

    Once Williams finds some fish he throws out an orange buoy marker over the brush. Next he loads up his Driftmaster Rod Holders with 16-foot B’n’M Poles and prepares to push up on the marker with six or eight rods deployed. “When I fish isolated brush I use single rig minnows,” explained Williams. “You won’t get hung as much.” 

    “You have to watch the poles closely, advises Williams. “Sometimes the bite is detected only because one of the B’n’M Poles looks different than the rest of them. That might mean a tip that is closer to the water, a line that goes sideways or a pole that has straightened up as the fish bit and swam up.” 

    “I like to see a rod tip that straightens out. Most of those bites where the rod tip comes up are good fish. I get excited when I see that rod tip come up. If you get on the right spot and catch one fish, there are likely to be more. Summer pattern fish are schooled up in deeper water. If you don’t have good electronics they can be hard to find. I depend heavily on my Humminbird to find them.” 

    Williams always begins his approach downwind from the buoy. This allows him to push up to the pile, catch a fish, and let the boat drift back away from the brush. “I like my buoy to be in front of me,” explained Williams. “I will fish upwind to the marker buoy, set right on top of the fish, and then let the wind push me back.” 

    “If you catch more than one fish on a push and spend time over the school thrashing around they can be spooked by the commotion,” explains Williams. “That is why I let the wind push me back. I want the school to stay calm so I can approach it again.” 

    Williams also warns anglers to watch the depth they are fishing. “You definitely want to be above the fish. They are rarely going to go down to feed. You want to use your sonar to determine depth and keep the bait just above their eyes. “ 

    Williams’s final advice for anglers is to be patient. “You gotta’ be patient. Sometimes you can run up on a bush pile on Blackshear and run out of minnows without even moving. Others times you pull up catch 3 or 4 or 5 and they quit. My Humminbird tells me they are down there, but they don’t bite. Knowing they are there gives me confidence to stay.” 

    EpilogueRoad Trip-Lake Blackshear-Photo-Epilog

    After learning about three methods for catching crappie on Lake Blackshear I am ready to go back and do it again. The beautiful lake, the bountiful fishing, the outstanding accommodations and the natural beauty of the region are a draw for any outdoorsman.

    Lake Blackshear is definitely a candidate to be placed on your bucket list of places to visit. Once you add in the friendly atmosphere and the southern hospitality you will find in the area it should move Lake Blackshear and Cordele, GA to the top of your list.

  • 07/24/2015 12:58 PM | Ron Presley (Administrator)

    The hometown spirit is running rampant 

    When the urge grabs me to get outta’ town for some relaxation, fishing and adventure I often look to Alabama. A recent trip to Weiss Lake in Cherokee County, Alabama added a new destination to my list. 

    I was travelling to cover the Bass Pro Shops Big Cat Quest (BCQ) event on June 10, 2015. The BCQ is a grassroots tournament trail that offers local catfishermen the opportunity to participate in a national tournament trail and the chance to qualify for the national championship to be held in Memphis, TN later in the year. 

    WCC-David Brooke

    The current World Champions of Catfishing, David Shipman and Brooke Wilkins

    were on hand for the BCQ on Weiss Lake

    “The locals have done well in past tournaments and they usually do,” stated Ken Freeman, organizer of the BCQ.  “The locals often have a step up on the travelling pros and are often in the money. These local tournaments also get the towns involved in the bigger picture of promoting catfishing.” 

    Get involved they did. Local towns like Leesburg, Centre and Cedar Bluff were all sponsors of the tournament and personnel from the different towns provided volunteers to help facilitate the tournament. Even the Cherokee County High School Bass Fishing Team was on hand to drive anglers from the water to the weigh-in site in golf carts. That hometown atmosphere and spirit of cooperation is something that cannot be manufactured, it is either there or it’s not. In Cherokee County Alabama that hometown feeling is running rampant. 

    HS Bass Team

    Nestled in the foothills of the Southern Appalachian Mountains, and bearing the moniker of Crappie Capital of the World, Weiss Lake and the surrounding area provides the perfect getaway for anglers and non-anglers alike. 

    It is pretty obvious that crappie angers are going to like the area. I saw some evidence of big crappie in the lobby of Weiss Lake Lodge where I stayed during my visit. On display in a glass case was a 4-pound and a 3.99-pound mounted crappie. All across the top of the south wall was numerous other huge crappie mounts giving further evidence to the moniker, Crappie Capital of the World. 

    Weiss Lake Lodge

    The lodge itself caters to anglers of all types by providing a large parking lot with security surveillance cameras, battery charging stations, fish cleaning station and freezer storage for your catch. It doesn’t get much better than that. 

    In addition to Weiss Lake Lodge there are numerous other lodging opportunities in the area. Visitors can choose from motels, resorts, bed and breakfasts, cabins, camping and RV sites, all with in easy distance of the lake and its facilities.

    Ken Freeman and some of the BCQ staff stayed at Bay Springs Country Inn. “They treated us like family,” said Freeman. “No request went unfilled. It is a great place to stay whether you are fishing or looking for other adventures.” 

    Jim Forrest is a local crappie guide and board member of the Weiss Lake Improvement Association (WLIA), a nonprofit organization that involves itself with projects like fish habitats, channel marker maintenance, educational projects with kids and things that just make the area a better place to live and visit. The all volunteer organization is another example of the goodwill that exists in the county. 

    JIm Forrest Weiss Lake

    Forrest describes Weiss Lake as a 32,000-acre impoundment averaging about 8 foot deep. “There is a lot of shallow water in the coves,” explains Forrest. “Weiss is known mainly as a crappie fishing lake, but it is also getting popular with the bass anglers. We have a real good population of large spotted bass here making it popular for tournaments.” 

    “We are known mainly for our crappie fishing,” continued Forrest. “We usually start around the first of October with our guided trips for crappie. The season goes until April or maybe the first part of May.” 

    3.25 crappie-Forrest-RS

    Forrest did have a caveat for boaters on Weiss Lake. “You look out over the lake and it looks like wide open water. There are channels out there that run 25 to 30 feet deep, but in reality this lake is a very shallow lake. There is also 2 and 3-foot water right out there in the middle. There are a lot of stumps, a lot of shallow areas that aren’t clearly marked.” 

    Weiss is like a lot of lakes, you have to be careful. Your best bet is to go with a guide for your first experience. That would give you a chance to learn about the lake. Forrest says most guides are happy to show you the ropes and get you started. “Guides can help you find out where they are biting and how you can get to them without tearing your boat up,” concluded Forrest.  

    Forrest pointed out that the area is much more than just the fishing. “It is a great place to come fishing, but there are lots of other things to do and interesting sights to see. We have some nice waterfalls, nice hiking areas and camping areas too. Cherokee County is just a beautiful place to visit.” 

    Forrest specifically pointed out Little River Canyon. This is truly a special place and unique because most of Little River flows right on top of Lookout Mountain in northeast Alabama. Outdoor enthusiasts will encounter forested uplands, waterfalls, canyon rims and bluffs, pools, boulders, and sandstone cliffs. There is no end to the outdoor activities Little River Canyon offers. 

    Another especially majestic site is Cherokee Rock Village. Leesburg Mayor Ed Mackey introduced me to the site. Mackey was having breakfast at Coosa Corner with Public Judge Melvyn Salter and Scooter Howell, Chairman of the Cherokee County Park Board preceding their visit to the weigh in at BCQ. They all seconded the mayor’s proclamation that it was a beautiful and interesting place to visit. 

    Cherokee Rock Village-1 rs

    “They have done a lot of work over there in the last ten years,” said Mackey. “There is so much history up there.” According to information on the Cherokee County website, Native Americans lived in the area from 8000 B.C. to the to the time of the Cherokee Indian Removal in 1838 and the resulting Trail of Tears.  Today the park is owned by Cherokee County and administered by the Cherokee County Parks and Recreation Board. Cherokee Rock Village-2 rs5

    “It was always called Rock City down the years when I was growing up as a kid,” continued Mackey. “There were just old sawmill roads out there. Chattanooga also has a Rock City so ours was changed to Cherokee Rock Village. They have put a welcome center out there and a nice pavilion making it more convenient for visitors.” 

    Cherokee Rock Village has become popular with rock climbers. The park has enormous boulders rising as high as 200 feet and measuring 70 feet wide in places. Even the U.S. military has been there for training. It is a must see attraction for rock climbers, hikers and anyone that enjoys the outdoors. The view overlooking Weiss Lake is nothing short of spectacular. 

    Weiss Lake rests comfortably in what is known as the ABC Triangle of Atlanta, Birmingham and Chattanooga. Day trips to surrounding attractions can be made with the knowledge that you will be returning to the quiet peaceful countryside around Weiss Lake to complete your day and refuel for your next adventure. If Weiss Lake and Cherokee County, AL is not on your bucket list, it should be. 

    A complete list of area attractions can be found on the Cherokee County website. Information on the BCQ can be found on their Facebook page.

    Photo credits: Thanks to Jim Forrest for the picture of his client with a 3.25-pound crappie and Joy Perry, Events Coordinator for the Cherokee County Chamber of Commerce and Tourism, for the great shots of Cherokee Rock Village. 

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