Sunday, September 23, 2018
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Big September Bass In The Guntersville Grass
Whether fishing a frog over the muck, punching the mats, or working the edges, grassbeds are key to September G’ville action.
By Jim Barta
The grassbeds are key to good bass fishing at Lake Guntersville in September.
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Whether competing for prize money at a tournament, guiding clients from a chartered boat or just fun fishing, I’d wager that a large portion of a bass angler’s fishing efforts is spent target-casting to shallow water structure. Docks, logs, rock and weeds all create safe havens for what is likely Alabama’s most popular game fish—the largemouth bass.

During early spawning periods and again in the months of September through December, these shallow-water areas can be a good bet for producing an enjoyable day in the boat. There’s nothing quite like having a largemouth roll up and engulf a topwater bait in water that’s only inches deep.

While in my mid 20s, I would leave my home in Michigan to spend a week or two fishing with schoolmates who had moved to Alabama after graduation. Back then, a buzzbait was considered by my crew as some crazy bait that made so much noise that it would surly scare off any bass in the area. It didn’t take many trips here for this Yankee to realize that these Bama anglers had it going on when it came to putting bass in the boat with buzzbaits and a dozen other shallow-water baits.

This shallow-water casting to structure was fun!

After moving from Michigan to join the Crimson Tide and Auburn Tiger fans in this great state some 12 years ago, I began meeting friends who would take my schooling on bass beyond simply casting to shoreline structure. I began to understand that to consistently put Alabama bass in the boat, you had to put a little science to the sport. The where, when, why and how was easy in the spring. Knowing where to go and what to use after that is what separates novice bass guys like me from the true anglers.

Since my move south, I’ve enjoyed fishing north Alabama waters such as Pickwick, Wilson and Wheeler Lakes.

The other lake that I’ve heard an awful lot about and was anxious to try was Guntersville.

Even during an extremely hot year such as we’ve been experiencing, the photos of large bass I’ve seen coming from Guntersville has placed it at the top of my list for favorite places to fish.

A recent opportunity to feed my addiction to topwater and jig hook-setting came when I was invited to join full-time professional fishing guide, Capt. John Maner for some time fishing the Guntersville waters.

While my bass fishing skills still need a lot of honing, I’ve had the privilege of fishing professionally on the Stratos Factory Pro Staff as a walleye angler. During that time I met a lot of great bass anglers, but from what I’ve seen, read and heard, none much better than the man I was about to join in a boat. This was one trip and interview I was really looking forward to.

“Like most other lakes, Guntersville will give up some awful nice bass along shoreline structure in the spring during the prespawn and spawn,” John told me. “During that period, it’s not terribly difficult to know where they’ll likely be and why they’re there. The summer months can be a bit tougher to locate the bass, but, beginning in September, the fish will start funneling back to some of those same early season areas. Once they do, most of the baits used early on will work again.”

Now, let me see if I’ve got this straight. I’m about to fish arguably north Alabama’s best big-bass lake at a time when the bite is shallow with plenty of topwater activity! Yea, I’m excited! It’s tough putting my rod and reel down long enough to finish the interview, but OK, here it goes!

With respect to finding the bass now that fall is beginning, I asked my guide what anglers should be looking for after leaving the launch.

“You’d want to keep an eye out for mats of grass that lay next to river channels or some sort of deep depressions in the bottom,” John told me. “Creek channels with shallow flats or grass in the backs of pockets will all be collecting fish. Any point or hump with grass on it is good, as well.

“One of the advantages to the fishing in September is that most of the grass is visible. If you find matted weeds, there’s a pretty good chance there’ll be at least a few bass somewhere in them.”

Hearing that, I had to assume that anglers without high-dollar electronics have about the same advantage as those who do.

“Well, that’s true to a degree,” John said. “The electronics aren’t necessary to find weeds in the fall. They’re on top and easy to see. However, where they do come in handy is in locating the creek channels and depressions. If I have a choice and limited time, I’ll use the electronics to locate the weeds next to the deeper water first.”

Since my favorite way to catch any fish is on topwater, I began picking John’s brain in that direction first.

“When the water begins to cool, topwater lures are always a good choice on Guntersville in the fall,” he said. “The fish are naturally pushing the shad to the top, which means they’ll be feeding upward. Any activity up there is going to grab their attention.

“Most any topwater plug will mimic an injured baitfish. Of course bass—like any other predator fish—can’t stand letting an easy meal pass. He has to have it. That’s just the way nature works.”

While what John was saying made a lot of sense, the one main difference between my spring, shallow-water fishing and the topwater offerings we’d use in the fall had to be the weed cover. Since spring, there’s been accumulations of thick weedbeds growing anywhere sunlight could reach the lake’s bottom. It seemed to me that hanging hooks and spinning blades would foul moments after touching the water.

“You’re right about the weeds,” John said. “In September, the weeds will almost always be quite thick. This year, the weed growth seemed to be a little late in reaching the top of the water column on Guntersville. September will have it up there though and as thick as ever.”

OK, it’s one thing for a guy who makes his living catching bass to give the basics on the what, where and how-to of his profession, but I thought I’d push my luck a bit by asking him if he’d mind sharing the types of baits he prefers using in those conditions.

“There are a number of weedless lures that’ll work on top of the weed mat,” he said. “Whether the mat is a bit sparse or quite thick, a soft-plastic frog or rat-like lure that holds its hooks tight to the body will slide across the top real well. The key here is to create a movement that the fish can detect down below. It’s kind of funny sometimes when they attack it. Every once in a while, the surface will explode, and they’ll knock the bait 5 feet in the air. You’ll catch yourself instinctively jerking the lure in a hookset expecting a solid stop but feeling a bit foolish when it isn’t there. It’s all fun!”

One of the areas where I’ve always looked for bass has been along the weed edges or on the edge of any noticeable change in structure or bottom conditions. I asked John if this was a good place to try, and if so, what he suggests using there.

“Yea, certainly the edges are always worth making several casts to. I’d recommend staying back away from the edge and trying there first before moving in,” he said. “This is especially true early in the morning or later in the afternoon when the bass are more actively feeding. They’ll travel the edge of the weeds looking for baitfish.

“Most any of the standard bass catching lures will work along the edges. Worms, jigs and spinnerbaits will all work well. Some folks will use lipless baits like a Rat-L-Trap if the weeds are rather thin. Probably the best bet would be a swimbait that’s hooked to run weedless. That way you don’t have to be concerned about hanging up on a weed stem and ruining the cast.”

Once the weedline edge had been fished, and we had worked our way up against the thick, top weed mat, I wondered if there was any way to get down to the fish that were reluctant to surface for a bait.

“One of my favorite ways of catching big bass in the fall is to work right through the weeds with a 1 ounce, or, even an ounce-and-a-quarter jig,” John said. “If you’ll look at the mat, you’ll see small openings or pockets in it. I love to pitch a plastic-tipped jig down into these openings. If there’s a bass near it, he’ll usually snap it up before it even hits the bottom.

“Years ago and before I started guiding, my dad and I could hardly wait for September to fish like that,” he said. “There’s no telling how many fish we caught and released on one particular day.”

OK, so here’s where my status as a novice bass fisherman starts to show a bit. I asked John how is it that the bass can even see a jig or other offering through the thick weeds.

“You have to understand, the top weed mat doesn’t go all the way to the bottom. Below the mat is just stem. It’s wide open under there. Once the weeds reach the top and begin to spread out up there, the sunlight can’t reach the leaves below. Those lower branches and leaves will begin to die and fall off.

“Fish don’t have the ability to close their eyes or squint like we can to block out the sun. The reason these weed mats will hold fish so well is because of the shade they offer. The bass will simply hold tight under there during the day and ambush baitfish as the bait comes in to feed. A great indicator that there are plenty of baitfish and, likely, bass beneath the mat will be a noise you’ll occasionally hear. Bream and other small fish will make a slight popping sound as they suck zooplankton at the surface.”

With thick weed cover and the additional weight that weeds will likely add to the fish during the retrieval, my guess was that, when fishing Guntersville this fall, it would be smart to use a stout rod and heavy line.

“I like using a 7 1/2-foot heavy fast action rod with 17- to 20-lb. test line when pitching jigs,” John said. “You’re going to need to jerk that fish out quickly when he strikes and not let it get wrapped around the weeds. A soft-action rod will bend too much at the hook-set and give the bass the ability to tangle in all the grass. When casting weedless frogs or rat-like lures, I’ll use the same rod but prefer 60- to 80-lb. braided line.”

Now that I had the “how, what and why” of Guntersville’s fall bass fishing, all I needed now was the “where.”

“In the lower end of Guntersville is Brown’s Creek,” John said. “This is a well-known area with a lot of grass, deep water and pretty good opportunities at catching both numbers and size. The fact that it’s well known is nothing to worry about. It would take someone years to learn all of Brown’s Creek.”

Anglers looking to fish this area will find the 3-lane Brown’s Creek Ramp on the south side of Highway 69 at the causeway.

“From Brown’s Creek heading north, you’ve got the mid-lake area between Guntersville and Scottsboro,” John said. “Out from the Water Front boat ramp are a number of grass-mat ledges that are off the river channel. Another good spot is the creek channel that splits out of South Souty. That channel and Pine Island are both excellent places to fish. Again, I’d suggest staying on the weed and channel edges and cast up into the weeds.”

Besides the Water Front ramp, boat launch facilities can be accessed at Lake Guntersville Sailing Club, Lake Resort Campground, Ossawinta Resort, Camp Ney-A-Ti and others.

“Farther up the river is a section known as Goose Pond,” John said. “This area is typically full of milfoil and other weedbeds that give people lots of opportunities at catching some good bass. After a bit of effort, most anyone should be able to do well here.

“I suppose that the best suggestion I could give is to get out this fall and give these areas in Guntersville a try.”

I want to thank Capt. John Maner for giving up so many valued tips on catching fall bass on Guntersville Lake. If you’d like to join John as I did in his new Phoenix boat for a day of fishing, call (256) 227-3277 or go to
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