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Jordan’s Famous Spots
Often kept in the shadows, this Coosa River fishery is a great place to fish in April for a trophy spotted bass.
 
By Greg McCain
Originally published in the April 2017 issue of AON
 
Damon Abernethy, Assistant Chief of the Alabama Fisheries Section, unhooks a 2-lb. Jordan spotted bass that hit a shaky head.
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The entire Coosa River chain is nationally known as a premier spotted bass fishery.

From the time it enters Alabama near Centre until its waters join the Tallapoosa to form the Alabama River, the Coosa is synonymous with spotted bass fishing. For the final link in the chain, Lake Jordan, that relationship is particularly accurate.

While certain Coosa impoundments—Logan Martin and Lay, for example—boast a good largemouth population that complements the spots, Jordan is almost exclusively known as a spotted bass fishery.

Yes, largemouth do exist in Jordan, but the Coosa strain of spots so dominates to the extent that their black bass brethren rarely factor in winning tournament bags.

Jordan doesn’t receive the outside publicity of the other Coosa lakes. Both Logan Martin and Lay have received the exposure that comes with hosting Bassmaster Classics and the ensuing influx of visiting anglers that follows.

However, I have heard variations of a statement from locals in the Wetumpka/Prattville area a half dozen times through the years: “If you really want to catch a big Coosa River spot, come to Jordan.”

More so than Lay and Mitchell, the two reservoirs immediately upstream, and the other Coosa lakes to the north, Jordan equals spotted bass.

The conversation was one that I had repeated a couple of times with Damon Abernethy, a state fisheries biologist who is now assistant chief (management) of the Fisheries Section of WFF. Damon never went as far as to absolutely state that Jordan is the best Coosa spot factory, but his actions suggest his love for the fishing there.

“I lived in Prattville until 2011,” he said. “I found myself on the road back and forth to Jordan so much for the fishing that I just moved there.”

Damon now resides in a lake home not far from Jordan Dam.

I finally made my first trip to Jordan in late winter, meeting Damon at Bonner’s Point ramp north of Wetumpka near the small community of Holtville. While Lake Jordan is a relatively small 6,800 acres, Bonner’s Point is a first-class facility with good parking and ramp space. It hosts an endless succession of local tournaments.

Although spotted bass seemingly never stop eating, Damon said the occasion was not optimum for spotted bass fishing. Picturesque bluebird skies that followed heavy rains and a cold front had dropped water temperatures back into the 50s.

“I don’t really like to fish for spots in sunny conditions,” Damon said several times during our trip. “Give me cloudy weather any time (for spots).”

Arriving at Bonner’s in his big aluminum fishing rig, Damon had mixed feelings about his plans for the day. The options: running 30 minutes to the Mitchell Dam tailrace or staying near the ramp in the “lake” portion of Jordan.

Damon wanted to run upstream, but he said heavy current being generated there after the rainfall in the region would make the fishing conditions difficult. He settled on idling across the lake and stopped short of a small island encircled with grass, the gnarly water willows famous up and down the Coosa.

“I love to fish upriver, but it can also be tough to fish if they are generating too much water,” he said. “Ideally, the fishing is best if they are running one unit. You can fish with two running. This morning, they are running all three units, just about too much to fish comfortably.”

Damon broke out his jerkbait rod and proceeded to twitch a Lucky Craft model on our first two stops. I tossed a small swimbait. Both lures are ideal choices for Jordan spots holding just outside spawning areas in mid-range depths.

“I really like to fish the jerkbait and can sit out here and do it all day long,” Damon said. “I don’t really like to fish the shaky head as much, but you have to do it at times.”

Damon went on to explain that Jordan can be a one-or-the-other type of fishery. He said the spotted bass are often biting better upstream rather than downstream or vice versa. He added that much the same is true of lure choices.

“It seems,” he said, “that they either want a lure that’s moving or one that’s fished really slowly.”

He soon turned to his variation of the shaky head and immediately scored with a small keeper on a tapering point dotted with wood structure that displayed prominently on his electronics. The catch was one of several that Damon made on that stop, punctuated by a bigger fish in the 2-lb range.

The spots definitely preferred Damon’s shaky-head rig to any of the crawfish-style plastics or regular shaky heads that I fished. The jig, which featured a wire weed guard, was shaped somewhat like traditional Arky-style heads but with concave sides and an indention on the top, as well. He completed the rig with a green-pumpkin-red Zoom Centipede, a French-fry style plastic. The spots liked the combination.

“I’ve been fishing this jig so long that I don’t even remember what it’s called,” he said. “They caught fish so well that about 10 or 12 years ago I bought about $100 worth, and I still have plenty of them to fish with.

“The (French fry) is something that not a lot of people throw on Jordan, but it’s something that I have found that the fish really like.”

We continued our fishing through the morning with much the same result. Damon alternated between the shaky head and the jerkbait, only picking up the occasional fish on the shaky head. The best action of the day occurred after we returned to the area where Damon caught his first fish. We had ventured to a couple of offshore areas in a bigger bay, looking for spawners on a long, tapering point with water as shallow as 5 feet on top.

Returning to the main lake, Damon circled another small island rimmed with grass, which grew in a V-shape away from the island and ended on a rocky hump. Along the way, we stopped to talk fishing and to photograph a 4-pounder caught by Montgomery area angler Jason Tussey (pictured above).

When we resumed fishing, Damon set the hook on a better fish, this one slightly heavier than 2 pounds. A few minutes later, he caught the best spot of our trip, a fish that weighed about 3 pounds.

All the catches came as Damon cast the shaky head to the perimeter of the grass and worked it slowly back to the boat. He alternated dragging the lure with short hops off the bottom.

“We’ve caught a few fish, but we really haven’t caught them like you can at times on Jordan,” Damon said. “On most days in late winter and through most of the spring, you can come out here with confidence of catching five spots that weigh at least 15 pounds.”

Damon went on to explain that a typical winning tournament bag included five spotted bass that weighed 20 pounds or slightly over with the occasional limit pushing 25. Jordan gives up fish up to 5 pounds with regularity, with some bigger spots up to about 7 pounds reported at times.

Despite the absence of a top-end Jordan spot among our catches, the fish that we did catch illustrated the type of spotted bass yielded regularly by the lake. Even the smaller spots were grotesquely fat with protruding bellies. Damon caught one fish about 11 inches long that looked to weigh well upward of a pound. The 3-pounder that he caught was only about 15 inches long.

The football metaphor is regularly used to describe spotted bass; the Jordan version looked more like basketballs.

I asked Damon why Jordan grew spots so well, and his response was rather ironic. In short, his answer went like this: the spots on Jordan grow so big because there are not as many of them as one might think.

“There is really fast growth on Jordan,” he said. “They don’t have a tremendous amount of competition for food. Those fish can grow a pound a year in the early stages.”

Later he added, “The recruitment on Jordan is not that great. We don’t really have great recruitment on most of the Coosa lakes, for that matter. Because the recruitment is limited, there is an abundance of food, more than the fish need, and the spots grow big and fat as a result.”

Recruitment is a wildlife and fisheries term that suggests the number of young of a species that survives from birth to a more mature stage. Damon went on to add that Jordan has a good, stable population of mature spotted bass, but field research indicates that the numbers might not be as great as imagined.

“On lakes with better recruitment—Lake Martin, for example, you have a population with many more smaller fish,” Damon said. “For whatever reason on Jordan—and I’m not sure what that reason is—you have fewer but a better-quality fish.”

Through the years, Damon has kept his spotted bass fishing fairly simple. For “lake” fishing, that part of Jordan that spreads out within about 5 miles of the dam, he sticks mainly with the jerkbait and shaky head.

He said he does not have particular tackle choices but generally sticks with medium or medium-heavy baitcasting tackle for both the jerkbait and the shaky head. He fishes both on 12-lb. test fluorocarbon.

He fishes the jerkbait slowly, most of the time with a single twitch and pause.

“I don’t jerk it several times like I see other people do,” Damon said. “If anything, I fish it slower than most and can usually develop that rhythm that catches a few fish.

“If it’s cloudy, I’m going to throw a jerkbait all day, really on up to about May. The warmer it gets, the faster that I’m going to fish it. If not, I’m going to a worm or something like that fished slower.”

Damon favors the bigger Lucky Craft jerkbaits in clear or shad colors like ghost minnow. He fishes them around the perimeter of spawning flats and other shallow-water areas in 5 out to about 12 feet of water.

One possible alternative is to fish shallow, especially along seawalls, with a weightless plastic bait, a good early morning option or when the fish move shallow to spawn.

“Throw something like a fluke or weightless Senko up there, and you can get bit along the seawalls,” Damon said.

In the upriver section that is more riverine, Damon relies on mid- or deep-diving crankbaits banged off rocks located directly in the current or football jigs fished just off the current.

His favorite crankbait is the Bomber Fat Free Shad in a color that features at least a little chartreuse. Almost universally, spotted bass have an affinity for chartreuse. Secondary choices are the Stike King 6XD and the Norman DD22. His favorite cranking reel is the Revo Wench, which he spools with 12-lb. fluoro.

Using 17-lb. fluorocarbon, he fishes a 1/2-oz. football jig on the back side of points—“anywhere out of the direct line of current.”

In addition to the downstream/upstream options on Jordan, another unique feature on the lake is a canal that leads to a second dam. The Walter Bouldin Dam was built about 40 years ago to enhance the hydroelectric generation on the Coosa. The water in the canal runs through the dam and eventually enters the Alabama River via another canal.

While he said he does not fish the area that much, Damon described the canal leading to Walter Bouldin as grass-filled, shallow-water habitat that gives up a few more largemouth than the main portions of the lake.

“There can be good spotted bass fishing in the canal, also,” he said.

Although from the outside looking in, Jordan is known as a spotted bass lake, Damon suggested not to overlook the other possibilities on the lake. In recent years, he has turned more and more to the crappie fishing, vertically targeting slabs on structure as deep as 25 feet.

“You can catch crappie deep on Jordan year-round,” he said. “Even when fish move shallow to spawn, there are still some fish out deep. The crappie fishing is one thing that is really overlooked on Jordan for the most part.”

The other possibility that he mentioned is catfishing, especially for the big flatheads. Damon has encountered the flatheads by dropping live bream off his dock as the sun goes down. He ties a heavy line to big cane poles, adds a large circle hook to the line, and baits with bream caught off the dock.

“I rarely do that without catching at least one catfish at some point during the night,” he said.

The catfish are a mix of blues and flatheads running up to about 50 pounds. Damon said that he is just getting into rod-and-reel fishing for the catfish but that the possibilities are intriguing.

Damon said that the other options will likely never detract from the idea that Jordan is foremost a spotted bass lake. He added that April is one of the best daytime months for spots, perhaps second only to the winter. As this month fades away, he turns to night fishing. He said from May through the summer and fall, the spots will slam a spinnerbait slow rolled after dark.

“On a really good day, I can get up to 20 pounds of spots,” Damon said. “This lake is full of 3-pounders. You shouldn’t have any trouble catching 15 pounds of spots in a tournament.”
 
 
 
 
 
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