Seconds later Bates was probing the stumped-filled shallow water with his custom-made spinnerbait, covering each piece of brush and visible cover in the current.
"We've been killing the bass on spinnerbaits up here in this shallow water with the sudden rise in temperature the last few days," he said.
The above-average temperatures for this late-February day had turned the bass on and the action was red hot.
"They've been relating to the standing timber and attacking shad that are swept by in the current," said Bates.
Bates is a fisheries biologist by trade and an accomplished tournament angler and fishing guide who is a threat to win any tournament held on the lake.
A lunker bass nailed Bates' spinnerbait almost tearing the rod from his hands before he recovered and drove the steel hook deep into its jaws. A few minutes later, the accomplished bass angler and longtime Greenville resident landed the 5-pound Lake Ferguson lunker. After a quick photo session, Bates released the bass and started probing the water again.
Lake Ferguson is situated right near downtown Greenville, and is an old oxbow off the Mississippi River that is full of 3- to 5-pound largemouth bass, spotted bass and striped bass. The lake is also tied to the muddy Mississippi River, and can be accessed on the southern end of the lake near the mouth of the river.
Date: Feb. 21, President's Day; 62 degrees at 6 a.m. with 13 m.p.h. winds out of the south and 84-percent humidity.
6:30 a.m. - After a good night's sleep in this famous Delta town, Bates and I pick up a quick breakfast of sausage and biscuits from a local Hardee's, and head for the launch ramp near the casinos. The temperature is warm and balmy with expected winds in the 20- to 25-m.p.h. range, gusting to 30 during the day.
7:00 a.m. - Arrive at the Lake Ferguson Boat Ramp and promptly launch Bates' Ranger bass boat.
7:20 a.m. - We arrive at the chute on the north end of the lake, and Bates quickly pulls out a rod with a large spinnerbait tied on and starts casting.
"Right now, the bass have moved up into this shallow chute area, and we've been catching them all along the visible cover," he says. "There's a lot of current flowing through right now and its sweeping baitfish and shad down through here as well. As a result, they really have been attacking spinnerbaits with a lot of folks throwing white and having good luck."
The now-shallow chute is the only portion of the area that has water on it bordered on both sides by mud flats between the upper and lower lake. The last time Bates and I fished the adjacent flats, there was 20 feet of water over them. Now, however, the water is nowhere to be seen, except in the shallow chute. As Bates continues working the spinnerbaits around the cover, we notice a lot of cranes, more than a dozen feeding along the edges and in the upper lake just to our west.
8:00 a.m. - Bates pitches his spinnerbait past a stump and starts working it back around the stump, but it never makes it past as a magnum Ferguson lunker smashes it and heads for parts unknown. Bates promptly sets the hook and gets the bass turned and headed in the right direction toward the boat.
"Man, did that bass kill it," says Bates.
The 4.5-pounder really wallops the lure and puts up quite an awesome fight. After taking a photo and a second to admire the bass, Bates quickly releases it and resumes fishing.
Things are really looking up now, at least for a few minutes. An hour later, we have not had another bite and things are really slow.
9:00 a.m. - "Let's move up the lake and try a similar area that usually holds fish," Bates says.
He fires up the motor and starts back to the main lake before turning left and heading for the upper end. After going about a half mile, we stop on the left side and start fishing another shallow flat that's populated with similar standing timber and stumps.
"I don't know what's going on this morning, but the bass should be up in these spots, so we'll try this area also," he says.
We continue working the shallows with spinnerbaits without much success, or any sign of bass activity.
9:30 a.m. - I pitch my spinnerbait by a couple of stumps and reel it between them. As I swim the lure through the stumps a feisty Ferguson bass nails it, and my first fish is on. I finally subdue the 2.5-pounder, and 30 minutes later, we are still looking for another bite, with none to be found.
10:00 a.m. - "I don't know what's happened, but the fish have moved from these spots, so we're going to try somewhere else," Bates says. "The wind's out of the south and west, so we're going to try the windblown rock points on the north side of the lake.
"We've really been catching them on the rock points on jigs and spinnerbaits for the last couple of months before they moved up into the shallow water of the chute."
Hoping to establish any kind of pattern, Bates cranks the big motor, and we head back toward the landing about an eighth of a mile and stop at a rock point filled with rip rap.
10:20 a.m. - It doesn't take long for the expert to bow up on our first crankbait bass. Bates has switched to a shallow-running chartreuse crankbait, and promptly catches a fish on an entirely different type of water than we have tried all morning.
"The wind's been blowing out of the south for a couple of days, and it's got the shad blown up against the rocky bank," Bates says. "The bass have found them, and are really feeding heavy.
"We need to cast right up to the bank and work the lure all the way to the boat."
10:25 a.m. - Taking a cue from Bates, I pick up a Bandit 200 series chartreuse/green back crankbait, pitch it near the rock point and started my retrieve. I don't get it far off the bank before a bass engulfs it also.
Some wise man once said that it takes at least two bass to make a pattern, and this time we've caught two bass in short order on the same type of structure and depth.
But would our "pattern" hold up for long? We were about to find out.
10:30 a.m. - I cast out toward a rocky bank and quickly catch another bass, a welcome fish for sure. We've now caught three fish in a few casts, and things are definitely looking up for us.
On my next cast, another bass nails it. Bates' strategy change is obviously working to perfection as the Bandit crankbait are really doing the trick.
A couple minutes later, I catch another 2-pounder, and our pattern is firmly established. The master angler started out trying to catch fish on spinnerbaits in shallow flats, but Mother Nature had changed the equation, and the shad had left those areas and the bass followed shortly behind. Though it took a couple of hours to locate them, we finally did and were really mopping up.
10:35 a.m. - Bates switches to a small-bodied deep running chartreuse/fire tiger crankbait and works it across a shallow rock ledge. Another lunker nails it and bears down toward the bottom. Bates battles the fish back and forth, and finally subdues it. It's a 5-pound lunker.
10:50 a.m. - I continue working the Bandit crankbait along the shallow rocks, occasionally bumping the bottom, ready at a moment's notice for the next bite. On another cast to the bank, nothing hits, but after about 15 feet, I glance the bait off of a rock and a solid 2.5-pounder nails it.
10:55 a.m. - Bates also works the shallow rock walls and ledges and entices another 3-pounder to bite after glancing it off of another rock.
"We've really got a pattern going now, and I think they want the crankbaits," Bates says. "You've just got to keep pitching that lure all the way to the bank and work it out all the way back to the boat.
"You can't see it, but sometimes the bottom runs way on out and then drops off at about 6 feet deep. Those bass are holding right at the drop off, whether it's right next to the bank or 30 feet out."
11:00 a.m. - We pick up and moved down lake a short distance to another rock point.
"We're going to keep on hitting the windblown rock points and see if the pattern holds up," Bates says.
Up above us looms several nice houses, high above the water.
"When we fished here last time, the water was about 20 feet higher, and it covered up most of those rocks," Bates says. "You've just got to get out here and stay with the fish until you catch a few and then you can establish a pattern. The water levels are constantly changing, but when it stays the same a few days, the fish will usually hold to that pattern also."
My first cast along the rock point yields another 2-pounder and confirms Bates' initial thoughts on our new pattern.
11:05 a.m. - Bates catches another bass, this time a chunky 3-pounder that fights wildly before succumbing to the expert angler. I follow up with a cast to the same spot and catch a keeper as well.
11:10 a.m. - Continuing on down the bank, I fire a crankbait next to the rocks, and another feisty river bass nails it. A short time later, Bates pitches up on the spot and nails one as well. This spot is really loaded with the bass, and we alternately catch and release about a half dozen more keeper-sized bass before moving on down the rock bank.
11:40 a.m. - Bates spots a submerged rock pile on the downwind side of a rocky point. The ledge drops off to about 9 feet deep. Without missing a beat, he picks up a 1/2-ounce jig and pitches it to the hump, twitches it twice and, bam, another 4-pound lunker smashes it. A few seconds later, he lands and releases the bass.
"I'm going to pitch a jig on a ledge or rock pile if I get the chance, and usually will catch bigger fish on them, "Bates says.
For the next, hour we continue working a stretch of rock points and submerged rock ledges and catch bass after bass on the Bandit crankbaits. Our day began slowly, but the bass are now biting almost constantly, and they are quality fish in the 2.5- to 3.5-pound range with occasional 4- and 5-pounders mixed in. After catching several on one spot, Bates picks up his jig again, pitches to the sweet spot and nails another 4-pounder.
"The crankbaits are really catching the bass, but the bigger ones seem to prefer the slow-moving jigs today," said Bates.
12:40 p.m. - "We're going to move downlake a short ways and hit another deep rocky point since the bass are holding tight to the windblown rocky points," Bates says.
We move about 1/2 mile downlake and pick up right where we left off as I catch the first bass on this spot, just seconds before Bates hammers another bass. A few minutes later, we both catch bass and have another double with Bates landing a 5.5-pounder!
"I promise you on any cast you might catch a 4- to 5-pounder on Ferguson," Bates says. "The lake is full of 5-pound bass, and we catch more here than anywhere in the state."
Over the next hour, we work the rocky point and catch and release 15 bass in the 2- to 5-pound range.
1:40 p.m. - Largemouths and white bass: We move to another windblown rock-filled riprap bend on the north side of the lake. Bates keeps flinging the chartreuse crankbait, and catches yet another bass. A few seconds later, he bows up on another fish, this time a white bass. Taking a cue from the expert, I pitch my Bandit up to the spot, and catch a largemouth as well.
Bates follows up with a white bass, and I hook up with one on my next cast also.
We have found our best spot of the day, a ledge 5 feet deep on top falling off into 14 feet of water, and the bass are positioned along the drop and attacking any shad or lure that swims by. Over the next 30 minutes, we really pound the ledge while working it back-and-forth with medium-running crankbaits, drawing strikes from either white bass or striped bass on most casts, with multiple doubles coming from white bass and largemouths.
Bates switches to a 300-series Bandit crankbait, and promptly catches a 3.5-pounder. A few minutes later, he follows that one with another 3.5-pounder while catching a few whites and smaller largemouths in between. Clearly the bigger bait is attracting the larger bass as the jig had.
2:49 p.m. - Bates catches bass Nos. 49 and 50 on back-to-back casts, and it is time to move on.
"We're going to try one last spot a little farther downlake, to another windblown point, and I think we'll catch them there also," Bates said.
Sure enough, Bates hooks up with another white bass at this spot also. I follow up with a couple of bass on back-to-back casts, and the master angler nails another as well. Over the next 30 minutes, we catch several doubles with bass weighing in the 2.5- to 3.5-pound range really hammering our crankbaits.
3:20 p.m - Double Trouble: Bates and I cast out and both hook up with one last double on the crankbaits. Mine weighs 2 pounds, and Bates finishes up with another 4-pounder. The fishing is red hot and will probably continue, but I have a four-hour drive home and just can't stay any longer.
Lake Ferguson gave us the best it had to offer on an extremely tough, poor-weather day, and Bates displayed his multi talents at finding, patterning and catching lunker bass. Our final tally included catching and releasing 62 keeper largemouths, and about 20 white bass! This came on a day when most anglers stayed home due to extremely windy and balmy conditions. Bates' best five bass weighed over 25 pounds, which was the icing on the cake for our day.
For more information on fishing Lake Ferguson or for guide service inquiries contact Terry Bates at 662-390-3886.