Friday, April 12, 2024

It’s Almost Time – by Jason Houchins




It’s almost time! Tournaments are so close I can almost smell the exhaust of fifty outboard motors all running at one time waiting for blast off. February is the start of something special every year on Buggs Island Lake. Not only is it the start of tournament fishing season, it is also the beginning of the time when the largest bass in the lake can be had. I have fished this lake for many years and lived on its shores for ten. If you want to catch the biggest bass that live in this lake there is a three week window when the big girls seem to appear, and then disappear just as fast.
From the last week of February until the middle of March can be your best chance for a Buggs Island giant. When I say giant, relatively speaking, I’m talking anything over 6lbs. These fish seem to be as eager as we are to move up and feel a little warmer temperature, and maybe it’s a biological thing for them as well. I have noticed no matter what the weather has been or will be, this is “the” time. Water temperature really seems to vary this time of the year; I have seen it as high as the low 50s or as low as 40 and it honestly didn’t make a big difference.  There is something special about that time frame for sure and in my experience the calendar is your most reliable predictor.
Well now that you’re all pumped and ready to go catch a few, I will do my best to help you out. The first thing I recommend is to keep it simple. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel, I narrow my choice down to about three things this early, these have all been proven producers for me.  Crankbaits, jerkbaits, and a simple jig are pretty much the ticket. I have used these baits from the back of Nutbush to the mouth of the rivers, and all have produced and will at some point during this time period.

Fishing is a lot like real estate; location is everything so you want to look for the right areas. Rock and pea gravel banks are money this time of year and they are everywhere on the lake. Chunk rock seems to be the most consistent along with rip rap. I had an old tournament veteran tell me, “you need to find rock about the size of somebody’s head”, I still think of that every year. Of course it’s nice if it’s real close to deeper water, but do not limit yourself to that. You can routinely catch these fish in a foot of water or less. My advice is,” if it looks good fish it”. Pea gravel or river rock is something else very productive on this body of water and I believe it routinely gets ignored.  It is plentiful all over the lake and rarely gets the pressure. This stuff warms up fast and it also is present around stumps, especially in the Nutbush Creek. Once again,” if it looks good fish it”.
For bait choices, there are a ton of them and this can cause confusion. Try to be practical and again, keep it simple. Go with what you feel comfortable throwing or have the most confidence using. Try to remember in cooler water, flatter baits with a tight wiggle can really produce. For crankbaits, you really can’t beat a Shad Rap #7 or #5. I also love a speed shad, speed trap, and rattle trap type baits. The jerkbait is a preference thing I always carry a few pointer 78s in a few colors, aurora brown being my favorite. They are expensive, but it is definitely a lure I have a bunch of confidence in. For a jig a like a ½ ounce, a simple green pumpkin or black and blue, all with matching trailers, are good choices.

Rod and reel gear are pretty important this time of year and I like to play it safe. I can hear my dad yelling, “slowdown”, as I write. He claims my trolling motor has two speeds high and I forgot to plug my charger in, that’s a whole different story. For this reason, I love a low gear ratio reel spooled with 8-10lb fluorocarbon line, something in a 5:1, for the crankbait and jerkbait. This will really force me to be slower regardless of my excitement and natural tendencies to hurry up. For a rod, I like a medium action 7 foot glass composite rod for both. This rod has good backbone and a real soft tip that can help with hook ups and landing ratio.  The jig I still prefer a 6.4:1 or faster and I want that spooled with 17-20 lb. fluorocarbon as well.  I want at least a 7 foot rod that’s pretty heavy action with a fast tip. Anytime I fish with a jig a like to beef up my tackle a little.
When you find the right area and feel comfortable with the bait, concentrate in the 4-8 feet range trying to be steady and deliberate. Switch up your retrieves to see what works best for you on that day. Overall slow with pauses when working either a crank bait or jerk bait is pretty effective.  If nothing is happening with the moving baits follow up with a jig hopped around that first drop off the chunk rock or gravel. Remember don’t be afraid to move up shallower as a day wears on, these fish can surprise you at how shallow they will get this time of year.
I love all areas of this lake early in the year but I am partial to the upper end, especially real early. The basic rule of thumb is that that water on the upper end is shallower and darker and tends to warm quicker than down lake. I think the fish sense that and just move earlier up that way. That is been fairly true in my experience as well, except when we have heavy rains and it could be the opposite. Living on Bluestone creek definitely makes it one of my favorite early places to fish, of course I am biased. There are also a few areas near the mouth of the rivers such as the legendary Hogan’s creek, which have produced well in the past but can’t take the pressure a large creek can. Moving down the lake Grassy most likely is one of the most consistent creeks anytime, with Panhandle being an early season favorite as well. Around the Dam Eastland and Palmers are great places to start, and if I’m fishing the Nutbush Creek area I really love all of Little Nutbush and Dodson Creek.  Those areas have lots of pea gravel and I love chunking rattle trap type bait in there along with a jerkbait.
These are all methods and baits that have worked for me over the years. There are numerous baits that can work in these same areas during this time frame. Don’t hesitate to do your own thing. Just remember If this long hard winter has got your cabin fever peaking, don’t worry; relief is only a couple weeks away. Don’t worry too much if the temperatures are still pretty cold; let the calendar be your guide at Buggs Island Lake.  It’s almost time…..

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