In the past ten months I’ve fished eighteen tournaments, half were local and the other nine required a decent amount of travel. I live in North Georgia and have been from Kentucky to Florida and out to Arkansas at different times in those ten months. This year I have decided to only fish a couple of national level tournaments but mainly do what I truly enjoy and that’s camp and fishing trips with my Jackson Big Rig FD. I am going to let the fish determine where and when I go to several different locales. From now through 2020 is going to be focused on catching my personal best Largemouth, Smallmouth and Alabama spotted bass. I’ll be going to Florida to fish several legendary largemouth bass lakes and a couple of places that are off the beaten path. In Georgia I’ll be looking for a giant Alabama Bass on beautiful lake Burton and the Tennessee river with it’s phenomenal largemouth and smallmouth fisheries so close to me, I’ll definitely be spending a lot of time there.
Last Thursday was an off day from work so I decided to head north to the Lake Nickajack tailrace. I had been told that the dead of summer wasn’t the best time to fish the tailraces but I had to see for myself. On my way to the launch site I passed over a part of Lake Nickajack and couldn’t help but notice the vast grass mats and the public boat ramp right in the middle of them. I almost talked myself into putting in there and try a hollow body frog around the mats but made a mental note that I could easily move from the tailrace area back up to the main lake if indeed the turbulent tailrace water wasn’t productive.
Upon arrival at the tailrace boat ramp I noticed several boats fishing for striped bass or catfish but it looked like if any bass were present they would be all mine to chase. As I rigged my kayak and made a few lure changes I heard the alarms sound off telling me that power generation was coming very soon. I knew the hazards that I would be facing in this scenario and had chosen this particular dam specifically because the lock walls created a large area sheltered from the current behind them that I could fish in the event the current was too swift. I hurried to launch and shortly after I hit the water I saw an obvious change in the water current. I picked a spot next to the lock wall where on my Navionics map showed a submerged point and started dragging my jig. I had a couple of bites but no takers and decided to explore the slack water behind the lock walls a little more. As I crossed the slack area I would mark on my GPS any interesting bottom features. I marked anything from slight drop offs to stumps, logs and rock. The whole time I was exploring I had in my mind that I’d probably end up leaving to fish the grass mats on the main lake but I was going to get a good look around before I made a decision.
About fifty yards from the opposite bank I saw a drop off on my electronics. The water depth dropped from eight foot down to about twenty foot in a short span. This ledge created an underwater current break that would’ve been invisible to me if not for my Raymarine Element and the Raymarine fish finder showed what looked like fish hanging out on bottom in about twenty feet of water. I had no idea what kind of fish they were but decided to drag a jig through the small school to see if I could fool one.
The jig I was using was a three quarter ounce swivel head football jig called the Fantasy Swinger made by Picasso Lures and I chose a Strike King Space Monkey in Okeechobee Craw as my trailer. Besides having a cool name, the Space Monkey has some very active appendages that create vibration, add some flash and moves a lot of water for such a small bait. That little setup is super simple to operate and involves a cast to where you think fish are or should be and slowly reeling it back to you. While maintaining contact with the bottom the football head will deflect off of rocks, shell, stumps and any other obstruction causing erratic movements added to the normal flapping of the Space Monkey’s appendages. I have full confidence that if that lure set up comes close enough to a bass…it will be eaten.
I cast my jig, let it sink down to the twenty foot bottom and start my slow retrieve. I immediately hook up to something large and after a short fight it gets off. I am guessing it was a catfish and make another cast. On that second cast I hook up again and this fish hugs the bottom like a catfish sometimes will do but then rockets up towards the surface. Before I can see the fish, it’s gone. Now my curiosity is high, that fish didn’t bite or fight like most catfish I’ve caught while deep water fishing. I thought it could have been a freshwater drum but now I’ve got to land one of whatever these fish are, just to ease my mind. I fish maybe twenty minutes more with no bites in the general area then go back to the spot I had gotten the previous hookups.
The cast is good, the retrieve is feeling right, I feel that familiar log as my jig crawls over it then just a few more cranks on my reel, I feel the pressure of the bite. This time, instead of snapping the hookset, I reel until I feel the fish then swing through with the hookset. My rod bows and the fish digs hard enough to turn my kayak. I’m immediately thinking it’s probably a big drum or catfish but after a few runs to either side of my Big Rig it starts a run towards the surface. It’s all I could do to keep the line taught by pedaling my Jackson Flex Drive backwards and reeling as fast as possible but I miraculously succeeded. At this point, I have the fish only a few feet below my boat but haven’t seen it yet, clueless as to what I have tugging on the other end of my line, I slow the fight down and let the my rod do the work.
The rod and reel setup I was using is an iRod Air series heavy action seven footer and a high speed 7.3-1 Quantum Tour bait caster spooled with seventeen pound fluorocarbon line. I use this rod for most of my jig and texas rig applications but it will handle a spinnerbait, bladed jig or medium sized swimbait with ease.
In what seemed to be an eternity, the fish finally succumbed and showed her face. The biggest smallmouth bass I’ve ever caught was within arms reach. I gently eased her closer, grabbed her lower lip and brought her on board. I sat staring at the most beautiful fish I’d ever caught and what a beast of a smallmouth she was, weighing over five pounds, stretching almost twenty one inches and lit up in the most vivid black and gold colors I’d ever seen.
That day was elevated to one of my finest by one fish, a couple of minutes of her time and the decision to get out of bed and go fishing.
The end result was what I least expected. My personal best smallmouth bass on the first attempt to catch a personal best. This year is going to be fun. Stay tuned for more trip reports as I scout the South East in search of Sleestacks.