How to fish the Alabama Rig
I'll cast the rig parallel to the rocks and reel it in quickly, because I want the rig to appear to be a school of shad that's up near the riprap, either spawning or preparing to spawn. I'll be using five, 1/4-ounce jig heads with five, 4.5-inch Mann's HardNose swimbaits in the pearl color, since this is the size and color of shad that'll be spawning in April. Because you'll be casting about 3 ounces of baits, you need to fish 65-pound-test Berkley FluoroBraid line and a Pinnacle 6.4:1 Optimus reel on a new Seeker-7-foot, 3-inch Alabama Rig Rod that's balanced and designed for fishing the Alabama Rig. The Alabama Rig is heavy and can create problems for a rod that's not designed to fish that much weight. This rod has plenty of backbone to move the weight of the rig through the water, a specially-designed handle to help you cast the Alabama Rig easier, the proper tip action to prevent breaking the rod when you load it with that 3 ounces of weight of the Alabama Rig and possibly one or two 3-4-pound bass, hook-setting power and the strength to fight those fish to the boat.
To catch the bass at Ross Barnett in April, you have to fish the rig really fast and let it swim just under the surface. The shad will be shallow, trying to spawn on the rocks and swimming close to the rocks. The 6.4:1 ratio reel will give you the power you need to pull the Alabama Rig as close to the rocks as you can without getting it hung-up.
Yes, the Alabama Rig has been banned from the Bassmaster Elite Series of Tournaments, but that group only involves 150 to 200 fishermen. However, the rest of the bass-fishing world and other bass tournaments besides the Elite Series allow you to fish the Alabama Rig. Numbers of bass have been caught on the Alabama Rig, and anglers have won many bass tournaments with it. Although many fishermen have purchased Alabama Rigs, they often don't understand how to fish them. But once you learn that the Alabama Rig needs to be fast and shallow in April to be the most productive, a whole new world of bass fishing will open up to you.
Backup bait for April bass
Regardless of how effective a bass-fishing lure is, no one lure will match the mood of the fish every day due to wind and water conditions. My backup bait for April bassing is the shad-colored Rebel Pop-R, a topwater lure that I'll fish slower than I will the Alabama Rig but still faster than most people fish their surface baits. Many anglers believe that when a topwater lure hits the water that the lure should sit still, so all the rings will dissipate that have been created by the splash. Then you pop it a couple of times and let it sit still for maybe a 5 count, before you pop it again. But in April, I'm convinced that Pop-R needs to keep coming to the boat, and I think it needs to stop three times during your retrieve. I use a retrieve with a rhythm of pop, pop, pop, pop, pause; pop, pop, pop, pop, etc. I'll cast the Pop-R on a 6-foot, 6-inch medium-action rod with a Pinnacle 7.3:1 Optimus reel and 12-pound-test, Berkley Fluorocarbon line.
How to use the Alabama Rig with the Pop-R
Also, when fishing the riprap to match the mood of the bass holding there, I'll use the Alabama Rig first, because it's a fast-moving lure with multiple baits that matches the feeding frenzy that the bass will be in at first light. As that feeding frenzy wanes, I like to fish the Pop-R very fast but not as fast as I do the Alabama Rig.
Why use Mann's HardNose Freefall Worm
I like to fish the green-pumpkin HardNose Freefall Worm without any weight, on 10-pound-test, Berkley's Fluorocarbon line and a 7-foot medium-heavy rod with a 6.4:1 ratio reel. In April, I want to cast the worm right at the edges of the rocks and let it fall to the bottom, before twitching it, pulling it a short distance away from the rocks and allowing it to fall again. Once the worm is 3-feet away from the rocks, I'll reel it in and cast it out once more. After the bass have slowed-down in their feeding, I'll entice them into biting with a slower-falling, slow-moving, easy-to-eat bait that falls right in front of their noses like the Freefall Worm.
To fish this worm effectively, think about how the bass feed, which is about the same way we do. If hors-d-oeuvres are being served before dinner, you'll probably eat them quickly. But then when the main course is presented, you'll slow-down your eating speed, and finally when dessert comes, you'll slow-down even more. I tend to believe that this process is how bass feed during the shad spawn at Ross Barnett in April.
How to fish the spawn
Remember that not all the bass in a lake spawn at the same time in the same place. During April, both spawning bass and some male bass that are guarding the fry that are already hatched will be in the lake. So, fish the lily pads with a buzzbait, dressed in a white skirt with gold blade. If the bass aren't feeding on top, then drop-down in the water, fish the Mann's Baby 1 Minus with a black back and chartreuse through the openings in the lily pads, and bounce it off the stems.
I also like the Mann's HardNose Frog in black with red flakes around the lily-pad stems. I'll be using a No. 4/0 hook and 17-pound-test, Berkley 100% Fluorocarbon line. I want the frog to crawl right in the roots of the lily pads to catch some of those bass that are spawning later than the other bass in the lake and also to catch the male bass that are guarding the fry.
These April tactics will enable you to catch bass all day long through first light until dark. The shad's spawning on the rocks in April at Ross Barnett usually will last for about 2 weeks. Plan to fish every day you possibly can during that time, because that's when the bass will be really active.